• Wednesday, June 12, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Modi sworn in as India’s third-time prime minister

In the new coalition government, there will be 71 ministers, 30 of them are cabinet Ministers, five independent charge, and 36 ministers of state

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during a swearing-in ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, India, June 9, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

By: Shajil Kumar

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was sworn in on Sunday (9) for a third term after worse-than-expected election results left him reliant on coalition partners to govern.

In the new coalition government, there will be 71 ministers, 30 of them are cabinet ministers, five independent charge, and 36 ministers of state. The portfolios will be announced later, according to Indian media reports.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ruled outright for the past decade but failed to repeat its previous two landslide wins this time around, defying analysts’ expectations and exit polls.

The coalition government will be a test of Modi’s ability to ensure policy certainty in the world’s most populous nation.

President Droupadi Murmu administered the oath of office to Modi at a ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the president’s palace in New Delhi, attended by thousands of dignitaries, including the leaders of seven regional countries, Bollywood stars and industrialists.

“Honoured to serve Bharat,” Modi posted on X, minutes before he was sworn in, referring to India’s name in Indian languages.

Supporters cheered, clapped and chanted “Modi, Modi” as the 73-year old leader, dressed in a white kurta tunic and blue half jacket, was called to take his oath.

Modi was followed by senior ministers in the previous government: Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and Piyush Goyal, among others. Their portfolios were expected to be announced after the swearing-in.

The first among the BJP’s coalition members was H.D. Kumaraswamy from the Janata Dal (Secular) party.

Other coalition leaders to take the oath included Ram Mohan Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the largest BJP ally with 16 seats, and which India media reports has extracted four cabinet positions.

Rajiv Ranjan Singh also took the oath, from the BJP’s next biggest ally the Janata Dal (United) with 12 seats, which has reportedly two minister posts.

Midway through the inauguration, news came that at least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a gorge after a suspected militant attack in the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir, drawing criticism of the security situation from the opposition Congress party.

Modi, who started as a publicist of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of his Bharatiya Janata Party, is only the second person after independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru to serve a third straight term as prime minister.

Coalition challenges

Modi delivered world beating growth and lifted India’s global standing, but appeared to have missed a step at home as a lack of enough jobs, high prices, low incomes and religious faultlines pushed voters to rein him in.

When Modi was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 the BJP enjoyed strong majorities, allowing him to govern decisively.

Modi’s new term as prime minister, therefore, is likely to be fraught with challenges in building consensus on contentious political and policy issues in the face of different interests of regional parties and a stronger opposition, analysts say.

Some analysts worry that the fiscal balance in the world’s fastest growing economy could also come under pressure due to demands for higher development funds for states ruled by the NDA’s regional partners and a possible push by the BJP to spend more on welfare to woo back lost voters.

While the broad focus on building infrastructure, manufacturing and technology could continue, “contentious reforms could be delayed”, said Samiran Chakraborty, Chief Economist, India, at Citi Research.

“The BJP’s major coalition partners are politically unpredictable, sometimes working with the BJP and sometimes working against them,” added Rick Rossow, the Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The larger parties that will be a part of his coalition are mostly agnostic on national-level issues and should not be applying a brake on economic reforms or security ties with the United States, Japan, and other key partners,” he said.

Modi, whose election campaign was marked by religious rhetoric and criticism of the opposition for allegedly favouring India’s 200 million minority Muslims, has adopted a more conciliatory tone since the result.

“We have won the majority … but to run the country it is unanimity that is crucial … we will strive for unanimity,” he said on Friday after the NDA formally named him coalition head.

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