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Talks begin on India’s new government

Indian prime-minister elect Narendra Modi (R) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) senior leader Lal Krishna Advani during a meeting at Gujarat bhawan in New Delhi on May 18, 2014. (AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN)

NEW DELHI: Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi summoned senior figures from his Hindu nationalist party Sunday for talks on forming a new government that is set to steer India sharply to the right.

Modi held meetings in New Delhi with aides, advisers and state and national leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party after storming to victory at the general election with a strong mandate for economic reform.

A day after jubilant parties, street parades and religious ceremonies were held around the country to celebrate the BJP’s landslide election victory, Modi was working behind closed doors to form his cabinet.

“All kinds of people are meeting Modi,” Prakash Javadekar, a senior BJP leader, told AFP, declining to reveal the names of the frontrunners for the finance, foreign, defense and other key portfolios.

Modi, a former tea boy who has governed his home state of Gujarat for the last 13 years, is expected to take office later this week after securing the strongest mandate of any Indian leader in 30 years.

He and his right-wing BJP trounced the left-leaning Congress, which has ruled India for most of the years since independence in 1947, piling humiliation on the famous Gandhi family that dominates the party.

Modi faces enormous expectations from tens of millions of voters after pledging to create jobs and increase development to revive the economy, which is growing at its lowest level in a decade.

After his presidential-style campaign dominated the election, Modi reiterated Sunday his pledge to work with his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to make India a world leader “once again.”

“NDA is committed to creating new opportunities to empower the people of India and to make India a Jagat [world] Guru once again,” he said on his official Twitter account.

Modi has toned down his Hindu nationalist rhetoric and promised unity amid predictions from opponents that he will alienate the country’s 150 million Muslims and other religious minorities once in power.

Modi is tainted by allegations he failed to stop anti-Muslim riots on his watch in Gujarat that killed more than 1,000 people in 2002. He has denied wrongdoing and a court investigation found no case to prosecute.

Sunday saw Modi meet the party’s elder statesman L.K. Advani – with whom he fell out last year – at his Delhi residence to brief him on the latest stage of the negotiations, according to local media.

Modi’s most trusted aide, Amit Shah, who steered the BJP’s thunderous victory in the critical state of Uttar Pradesh, is tipped to become his boss’s enforcer with a top post in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Successful lawyer Arun Jaitley, a member of the upper house, has been widely tipped to become finance minister. BJP president Rajnath Singh, a past federal government minister, could also be tapped for a key ministry.

Sushma Swaraj, who led the opposition in the lower house in recent years and is the BJP’s most senior female leader, is also expected to receive a key cabinet position, although she is not close to Modi.

Top BJP leaders were also meeting in Delhi with the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Hindu nationalist organization seen as the ideological fountainhead of the BJP.

A senior BJP leader denied that the party would be taking orders from the RSS on who should be appointed to the new cabinet.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 19, 2014, on page 10.

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Summary

Prime minister-elect Narendra Modi summoned senior figures from his Hindu nationalist party Sunday for talks on forming a new government that is set to steer India sharply to the right.

Modi faces enormous expectations from tens of millions of voters after pledging to create jobs and increase development to revive the economy, which is growing at its lowest level in a decade.

After his presidential-style campaign dominated the election, Modi reiterated Sunday his pledge to work with his BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition to make India a world leader "once again".

Sushma Swaraj, who led the opposition in the lower house in recent years and is the BJP's most senior female leader, is also expected to receive a key cabinet position, although she is not close to Modi.


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