President Pranab Mukherjee (left) administering the oath to Narendra Modi
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi was sworn in as India’s new prime minister on Monday evening at a glitzy ceremony featuring Bollywood stars, the country’s wealthiest businessmen and Mian Nawaz Sharif, leader of adversary Pakistan.
Surrounded by 4,000 guests including South Asian heads of state, the ceremony was seen as show of determination to help re-establish the world’s largest democracy as a key player in regional and world affairs by a man notorious for grand statements in his home state of Gujarat.
A statement posted on the new prime minister’s website after Modi’s inauguration urged Indians to “dream of a strong, developed and inclusive India that actively engages with the global community to strengthen the cause of world peace and development”.
The ceremony marked the first time a Pakistani head of state had witnessed the inauguration of a new Indian counterpart amid longstanding hostilities over disputed Jammu and Kashmir.
During an official dinner hosted by Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Modi and Sharif held brief talks. They were due to formally meet again Tuesday.
Sharif said on his arrival in Delhi that both countries should erase the instability and insecurity that "had plagued us for decades", terming his visit an opportunity to improve relations.
“[It] was an excellent move by Modi to invite SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders, especially the Pakistani prime minister for his swearing in. Hopefully this is the beginning of sustained talks,” said Omar Abdullah, chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
The visit received mixed reviews in Pakistan. Although some hardliners warned Sharif that he should not come back if he was prepared to attend Modi’s inauguration, Lahore-based writer Mobarak Haider said many intellectuals and liberals welcomed the move.
“It is a bold step by both the leaders. Talks are the only way to resolve the dispute. Good Modi-Sharif ties can be a game changer in strategic as well as trade and commerce terms,” he said. Diplomats and experts say that both leaders remain beholden to domestic pressures with Sharif facing pressure from the military and Islamic jihadists while Modi must placate hundreds of millions of supporters who backed his Hindu nationalist stance during the recent elections.
“He was only a chief minister of Gujarat. He should work cautiously although as head of a new government he has the prerogative to invite anyone for his swearing in,” said Rashid Alvi, leader of the opposition Congress Party.
India’s media has been euphoric about Modi’s approach to foreign policy as he begins a first, five-year term.
The Times of India published an editorial on Tuesday citing a Chinese government think tank casting Modi as India’s Richard Nixon, the US president who re-established ties with Chairman Mao Zedong’s Communist Party in the 1970s.
“If Modi truly follows in the footsteps of the former American president … and breaks free from the Indian community’s somewhat outdated view of Pakistan, it could jumpstart an Asian revolution,” it said.