Style, Substance in Coronation
NEW DELHI: A touch of Raj-era grandeur was added to Narendra Modi’s swearing-in as the ceremonial anointment of the new Prime Minister moved out to the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan and President Pranab Mukherjee descended the grand staircase to the sounds of bugle. Not only the shape of his lean Cabinet-downsized to 46 from Manmohan Singh’s 77-member jumbo government-but a whole potential architecture of future diplomacy was on show as all leaders of neighbouring countries took their place in the VIP visitors’ gallery.
The presence of Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom made Modi government’s swearing-in the most-watched event in entire South Asia.
Setting the pecking order of the Cabinet, right after Modi, BJP chief and the second-in-command of the new dispensation Rajnath Singh took oath. Thereafter, it was predictable-Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, and Nitin Gadkari. The surprise picks among the full Cabinet ranks are Najma Heptullah, Smriti Irani and Uma Bharti-four women, including Swaraj. Another unexpected name was that of Sadananda Gowda, who is likely to get the Railways portfolio. In all 23 Cabinet ministers, 10 MoS with independent charges, including former Army chief General V K Singh, and 12 MoS were sworn-in.
Opposition leaders too were present at the ceremony, though notable omissions included CMs J Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Oommen Chandy and Naveen Patnaik. Among the front-row spectators were a motley mix-from outgoing PM Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to Modi’s right hand man Amit Shah (who is not in the new government), and top four of the 23 new Cabinet ministers. Despite the gaps and absentees, it was evident that the new dispensation is keen to allay any apprehension. Almost exactly at the time Modi took his oath, his PMO website flashed a message: “Let us script a glorious future for India… people have delivered a mandate for development… Let us dream of a strong inclusive developed India.”
It is perhaps to honour the stunning mandate that from Chief Justice of India R M Lodha to a number of MPs cutting across party lines attended the ceremony. Also among the gallery of spectators were corporate magnates like Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, the Mittal brothers, Ruias and Ashok Hinduja - the first two being seen as particularly crucial supporters of the Modi campaign juggernaut. Also present were celebrities like Salman Khan, cricketers M S Dhoni and Sunil Gavaskar and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Several Muslim leaders were also among the attendees.
The spectacular nature of the event and its deep significance ensured that it was widely watched on TV across the SAARC region, a fact confirmed by a stream of Twitter responses from beyond India’s boundaries. This aspect took the event to a status beyond that of a mere spectacle to an actual, proactive move on the chessboard. By inviting Nawaz Sharif, in particular, Modi displayed once again his capacity to parlay spectacle into a real event. Sharif had to, by accounts, fight off some strong reservations within the Pakistani establishment, notably among elements of the “deep state”, including the Rawalpindi army HQ and the ISI, to take up Modi’s offer. The one-on-one meeting between the two leaders is seen as an occasion that would be a tone-setter. Now, work begins at 8 am on Tuesday.