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India cold-shoulders Pakistan at Modi’s swearing in ceremony

Narendra Modi's  swearing-in ceremony
Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony RFI/Murali Krishnan

After a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sworn in along with a new council of ministers on Thursday for a second consecutive term. An estimated 8,000 guests were on hand, with a notable absence -- Pakistan.

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The guest list included world leaders, foreign dignitaries, politicians, celebrities and industrialists attended the swearing-in ceremony at the forecourt of the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Presidential Palace in the capital.

Walking to the podium to chants of "Modi, Modi" from the audience, which was a popular electoral campaign refrain, 68-year-old Modi was administered the oath by President Ram Nath Kovind.

BJP seat haul

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance returned to power with a massive haul of 352 seats in the Lok Sabha or parliament elections. The BJP alone won 303 seats on its own in a House of 543 MPs.

Leaders of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, and Bhutan - all members of the little-known Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) – attended the swearing-in.

In a carefully calibrated diplomatic move by inviting a host of foreign dignitaries, India has managed to highlight the "neighborhood first" policy and also emphasize its outreach towards Central Asian nations.

Mauritius’ Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, a close ally, was also present five years ago.

India's re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi
India's re-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi Murali Krishnan

India has factored its plans for the region to create a secure maritime front. Kyrgyzstan’s inclusion indicates that India’s foreign policy extends beyond its immediate neighbourhood. From Thailand, its special envoy Grisada Boonrach represented the country at the ceremony and Myanmar President U Win Myint was in attendance.

After India refused to attend South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Pakistan in 2016, New Delhi has shifted focus towards BIMSTEC as a regional integration workaround in the pan-South Asian grouping.

With one-fourth of the world's traded goods crossing the Bay of Bengal every year and with untapped resources, the region has the potential of becoming a force to reckon with.

“This move to reach out to the BIMSTEC nations is well thought out. Prime Minister Modi is sending out a strong message that he can conduct his foreign policy without Pakistan and isolate it in the international arena,” said foreign policy analyst Manish Chand.

Pakistan frozen out

In 2014, Modi had invited all SAARC leaders, including the former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, for his swearing-in ceremony, as an initiative to reach out to the neighbouring countries.

But since the terror attacks of 2016 in Indian-administered Kashmir against army cantonments, ties between the two countries had gone into deep freeze.

India has been signaling towards strengthening other regional blocs such as BIMSTEC instead of working within SAARC that has not seen any momentum as Pakistan refused to act against terror networks operating from its soil.

Though Pakistan Prime Minister Khan called Modi over the weekend to congratulate him on his win, an invitation was not extended – an indication that ties have not thawed.

Officials in the foreign ministry affirmed that an early warming in ties betwee.n the nuclear-armed neighbours was unlikely.

During his election campaign, Modi harped on national security issues, including a counter-terror operation carried out at the biggest terror training camp in Pakistan's Balakot region. Critics point out that by whipping up nationalist sentiment, Modi was able to portray himself as the ‘strongman’ for India who would be able to secure the country’s borders.

Pakistan has tried to downplay India’s decision not to invite Imran Khan for the swearing-in ceremony claiming that the Indian Prime Minister’s “internal politics” do not permit him to extend an invitation to his Pakistani counterpart.

“His (Prime Minister Modi’s) entire focus (during the election campaign) was on Pakistan-bashing. It was unwise to expect that he can get rid of this narrative (soon),” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was quoted as saying by Dawn News.

“India’s internal politics did not permit him to extend an invitation,” Qureshi said.

Narendra Modi and Imran Khan will attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Kyrgyztan's capital Bishkek in mid-June but no decision has been taken by India on any meeting between the two leaders.

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