Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second term on Thursday during a glittering ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi, after a landslide election victory that sealed his position as the country's most powerful leader in decades.
The estimated 8,000 guests seated on the sprawling forecourt included leaders of eight countries, mostly from Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. It underscored Modi's priority in focusing attention on India's neighborhood as China makes inroads in the region.
There was, however, one notable omission: Pakistan. Following a campaign fought on a plank of national security, India did not invite Modi's Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan, marking a departure from five years ago when then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was among the guests.
Analysts interpret that to mean that an early return to peace talks is unlikely with the rival nation, with whom tensions surged after a suicide attack in Indian Kashmir in February brought the two countries to the brink of a conflict.
"Our government will leave no stone unturned to safeguard India's unity and integrity. National security is our priority," Modi said in a tweet after paying tribute at a recently-opened war memorial on Thursday morning before the oath-taking ceremony.
The ceremony was bigger than in 2014, with top corporate titans and Bollywood stars among the guests. Also present were leaders of Kyrgyzstan, symbolizing an outreach to Central Asian republics, and Mauritius, a strategically located country in the Indian Ocean where both China and India are vying for influence.
The 68-year-old Modi led his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to an even bigger victory than in 2014. The son of a tea seller, he has often drawn attention to his humble origins.
Expectations are high from his second term as the BJP becomes the first party in decades to secure a parliamentary majority in two consecutive elections. The mandate was won largely on optimism that Modi can deliver on his promises of providing strong leadership and putting the economy back on track in a young and aspirational country.
Modi is expected to prioritize restoring momentum to the economy, which has faltered to its slowest pace in over a year. Analysts say that while voters ignored challenges such as surging joblessness and plunging farm incomes to return him to office, they will want him to steer an economic revival.
"The expectations are that he will take care of the unemployment problem, agrarian distress, but we don't know how he will tackle these issues," says Rahul Verma, a political analyst at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. "There is no clarity on the road to recovery path."
Modi has promised to double farmers' incomes, boost aid to rural areas and make India the word's third-largest economy by 2030. Manufacturing growth, however, has weakened and consumption has fallen.
Modi's second term will also be closely watched to see whether his government can restore confidence among minorities such as Muslimshis first term had witnessed a rise in hate crimes targeting the community. In a speech to lawmakers after last week's victory, he asked them to win "the trust of all" and said minority communities lived in "imagined fear" stoked by opposition parties.
The BJP has a commanding majority in parliament. The party won 303 seats and along with its allies, controls 351 of the 545 seats in parliament.
Among the 57 ministers who also took the oath of office was Amit Shah, the powerful head of the Bharatiya Janata Party and a key strategist who helped craft the party's resounding win. A key aide to Modi, Shah is expected to get the finance portfolio.
Source: Voice of America