Narendra Modi took oath as Indian Prime Minister for a second consecutive term after a crushing victory in the 17th Lok Sabha elections. About 8,000 guests, including regional leaders, dignitaries, politicians, celebrities and industrialists were present in Modi's swearing-in. The oath-taking ceremony projected that India is the biggest secular democratic country.
Top opposition leaders, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his mother UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhiwere also in the audience.The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance returned to power with a massive haul of 352 seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The BJP won 303 seats on its own. Congress got 52 sets and alliance UPA 91.
The oath ceremony was attended by leaders from BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations. The list includes Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and also Nepal and Bhutan.Md Abdul Hamid, President of Bangladesh; Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka; Sooronbay Jeenbekov, President of the Kyrgyz Republic; U Win Myint, President of Myanmar; Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius; KP Sharma Oli, Prime Minister of Nepal; Dr Lotay Tshering, Prime Minister of Bhutan; and Grisada Boonrach, Special Envoy of Thailand were present on the occasion.
Leader of BJP led NDA Narendra Modi visited father of the nation Mahatma Gandhi's Mausoleum and later on BJP and NDA's main architect A B Vajpayee Mausoleum to pay homage to them in the morning. We know Mahatma Gandhi fought against British rule and sacrificed for freedom, secularism and democracy. His prayer meeting was inclusive and all religious groups used to participate in it.
It projects equality for all religions and brotherhood. Bharat Ratna Atal Bihari Vajpayee had strengthened BJP to become the alternative of Congress and formed NDA to give a national character based on secular democratic values.
We hope Hindutva will follow their sprit so that, it is complementary to secular democratic system of India. It is mentionable that there was a demand to declare ancient book Holy Gita as the national book. After debates PM Narendra Modi told in the parliament that their main book is their constitution. It may be mentioned that father of the nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu introduced recitation from Holy books in state as well as public functions to project equality and communal harmony.
The oath-taking ceremony was administered by President Ramnath Kovind. The PM along with most of the ministers expressed religious sentiment by swearing in the name of Ishwar or God. Mr. Ram Vilash Paswan, one of the senior leaders of NDA, and few other leaders didn't express the religious sentiment.
This demonstrates the secular democratic system of India. We know in USA oath is taken by keeping hand on Holy books. In France, religion is isolated from state system. In the Indian system, one has the freedom in oath taking.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to invite leaders of the other six BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries to the swearing-in ceremony of his Council of Ministers sends out several messages on his new government's foreign policy focus.
To begin with, as the Foreign Ministry's announcement notes, the invitation to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand is a continuation of the "neighborhood first" policy behind Mr. Modi's invite to leaders of South Asia for his 2014 swearing-in ceremony.
Second, by not inviting leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Maldives on this occasion, the government is underlining that its regional preferences have shifted from the SAARC grouping to BIMSTEC.
Unlike in 2014, when he invited Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifwith an element of hope and a desire to developed bilateral ties, Mr. Modi is signaling that he does not hold the same optimism in 2019. Thailand is not just a member of BIMSTEC but also holds the chair of ASEAN this year, and an invitation is as much about India's "Act East" initiative and outreach to East Asia.
Finally, the separate invitation to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization chairperson, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov of Kyrgyzstan, indicates India's commitment to the Central Asian grouping. The other separate invitation to Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth of Mauritius, who visited India in January this year as chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya conference, is an affirmation of the close affinity between the two countries.
India's engagement with both BIMSTEC and the SCO, which India joined in 2005, is at a promising stage. After its formation in 1997, BIMSTEC is progressing. India sees BIMSTEC as a possible alternative to SAARC, which has failed to meet for five years. The SCO, which inducted India and Pakistan as full members last year, is yet to demonstrate its utility for India, but is seen as a possible balancer.As a result, the attendance at Mr. Modi's swearing-in ceremony, and the bilateral meetings that followed, may represent outcomes.
A day after taking charge as prime minister for a second term, Modi also held extensive talks with Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth.
Narendra Modi held talks with President Abdul Hamid. In the talks, the Indian premier stressed the joint celebration of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh Independence and observance of birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. India will support on Rohingya issue in different forums so that it is resolved on an urgent basis. They hoped that the Teesta water sharing problem will be solved and realization will reach to an unprecedented height.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held separate meetings with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, exploring ways to further strengthen bilateral ties.
In the meeting between Modi and Sirisena, both leaders noted that terrorism and extremism continue to pose threat to humanity and expressed commitment for closer bilateral cooperation for peace and security in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, Sri Lanka was hit by a wave of bombings last month in which over 250 people were killed.
Modi also held talks with his Nepal counterpart KP Sharma Oli during which both leaders expressed their commitment in further deepening relations. On Modi's talks with Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering, the two leaders discussed bilateral commitments and agreed to further solidify the traditionally strong ties.
The oath taking ceremony and participation of regional leaders indicate that people of this region want security, democracy, co-operation and progress.
The writer is an academic former ambassador and a freedom fighter
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