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India’s Modi faces coalition challenges as he takes office for third term Reuters

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YP Rajesh and Chris Thomas

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in for a third term on Sunday, after a shock defeat at the polls will test his ability to ensure policy certainty in the governing coalition of the world’s most populous country.

President Drupadi Murmu administered the oath of office to PM Modi at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential residence in New Delhi, which was attended by thousands of dignitaries, including leaders of seven regional countries, Bollywood stars and business leaders.

“It is an honour to serve India,” PM Modi wrote in a post on X, naming India in Indian languages, minutes before taking oath of office.

Supporters cheered, clapped and chanted “Modi, Modi” as the 73-year-old leader, dressed in a white kurta tunic and blue half-jacket, was called by name and taken the oath.

Modi’s replacements include senior ministers from the previous government, including Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Piyush Goyal, whose posts will be announced after they are sworn in.

Modi began his career as a spokesman for the Hindu nationalist organisation RSS (Resistance Socialist Union), the ideological parent of his own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and became just the second man after independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru to serve three consecutive terms as prime minister.

Modi was elected for a third term in the elections that ended on June 1 with the support of 14 regional parties that are part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The party had won majorities in the previous two terms, but this time the results were different.

The result is seen as a major setback for the popular leader as opinion polls and exit polls had predicted the BJP to win even more seats than it did in 2019.

Challenges for the Union

Prime Minister Modi has achieved world-class economic growth and raised India’s international standing, but domestically, issues such as a lack of jobs, high prices, low incomes and religious conflicts have prevented voters from supporting him, and he appears to have been unable to take a step forward.

During Modi’s tenure as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, the BJP had a landslide majority, enabling him to rule with determination.

As a result, analysts say Modi’s new term is likely to be fraught with challenges in forging consensus on contentious political and policy issues, in the face of diverging interests from regional parties and a growing opposition.

Some analysts also worry that demands for more development funding for states governed by the NDA’s regional partners and possible attempts by the BJP to boost welfare spending to win back voters lost in this year’s elections could put pressure on the fiscal balance of the world’s fastest-growing economy.

Samiran Chakraborty, chief India economist at Citi Research, said the broad focus on building infrastructure, manufacturing and technology is likely to continue, but “controversial reforms may be delayed.”

“The BJP’s key coalition partners are politically unpredictable, sometimes working with the BJP and sometimes opposing it,” added Rick Rossow, director of U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The major parties in the coalition government will be largely uninterested in national-level issues and should not put the brakes on economic reforms or security relations with the United States, Japan and other key partners,” he said.

Modi’s election campaign was based on religious rhetoric and attacks on the opposition parties on favouring India’s 200 million Muslim minority, but he has adopted a more conciliatory stance following the shock result.

“We have won a majority but unanimity is important to run the country. We will strive for unanimity,” he said on Friday when the NDA formally named him leader of the coalition government.

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