NEW DELHI: Raj-era grandeur marked Narendra Modi’s swearing-in on Monday as the new Prime Minister moved to the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan and President Pranab Mukherjee descended the lofty staircase to the sounds of bugles.
The shape of his Cabinet — downsized to 46 from Manmohan Singh’s jumbo 77—and an architecture of future diplomacy was on show as leaders of neighbouring countries took their place in the VIP gallery.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapaksa, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom made the Modi government’s swearing-in the most-watched event in all of 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. Incidentally, both the youngest and oldest members in the Cabinet also happens to be women — Smriti and Najma. Another unexpected name was that of D V Sadananda Gowda, who is likely to get the Railways portfolio.
In all, 23 Cabinet ministers, 10 Ministers of State with independent charge, including former Army Chief General V K Singh, and 12 MoS were sworn in.
Opposition leaders too were present at the ceremony, though notable absentees included Chief Ministers Siddaramaiah, J Jayalalithaa, Mamata Banerjee, Oommen Chandy and Naveen Patnaik.
Despite the gaps and absentees, 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 the boundaries. This aspect took the event to a status beyond that of a mere spectacle or grand formality to an actual, proactive move on the chessboard.
Ahead of the ceremony, Modi visited Rajghat and paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi.
The one-on-one meeting between Modi and Sharif on Tuesday is being seen as an occasion that could be a tone-setter, both in atmospherics and content. Modi has hit the ground running. Now, work begins at 8 am on Tuesday.
Almost exactly at the time Modi took oath to serve every citizen without bias or partisanship, his PMO website flashed a message: “Let us script a glorious future for India…” people have “delivered a mandate for development, good governance and stability…. Let us dream of a strong, developed and inclusive India.”
Also among the gallery of spectators were corporate magnates like Mukesh Ambani and family, Gautam Adani, Anil Ambani, the Mittals, Kumarmangalam Birla, Sashi Ruia, V N Dhoot and Ashok Hinduja - the first two being seen as particularly crucial supporters of Narendra Modi campaign juggernaut.
Also present were celebrities like Bollywood actor Salman Khan, cricketers past and present - M S Dhoni and Sunil Gavaskar - and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
By inviting his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, in particular, Modi once again displayed his capacity to parlay spectacle into a real event.
Sharif had, by all accounts, to fight off some strong reservations within the Pakistani establishment, notably among elements of the “deep state” that includes the Rawalpindi Army HQ and the ISI, to take up Modi’s offer.