NEW DELHI: India deployed sharpshooters and security forces around the capital Monday as Narendra Modi prepared to be sworn in as prime minister in a ceremony attended by a slew of foreign dignitaries - including the prime minister of archrival Pakistan.
President Pranab Mukherjee will administer the oath of office and secrecy to Modi and his Cabinet ministers at an inaugural event to be held at the presidential palace Monday evening.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted Modi's invitation on Saturday. His presence at the inauguration signals an easing of tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, analysts said.
Pakistan and India have a history of uneasy relations and have fought three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947. Modi and Sharif are scheduled to hold formal talks on Tuesday.
In a first, Modi invited the leaders of all other South Asian countries to the event, and the heads of government of Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, Nepal and Afghanistan were scheduled to reach New Delhi in time for the ceremony, to be held Monday evening. Bangladesh would be represented by the speaker of its parliament.
Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party won a resounding victory in general elections. He has promised to revitalize the economy and make India a leading global power.
The past few years have seen sagging economic growth coupled with accelerating inflation and a decline in exports. The former Congress party-run government had in recent years been paralyzed by a series of corruption scandals, internal feuding and an inability to deal with the stumbling economy and deep-rooted problems with poverty, infrastructure and education.
In an early indication that he plans to streamline government functioning, Modi's office said in a statement that several ministries, especially those dealing with infrastructure, were being combined to make them more efficient and to reduce bureaucratic red tape.
Modi has won the election with a strong mandate that analysts say will give him a free hand in choosing his priorities without being constrained by coalition partners. The BJP won 282 seats in the 543 member lower house of Parliament, well ahead of the 272 halfway mark that it would require for conducting business.
During his months-long campaign, Modi promised that if he was voted to office his goals would be good governance, job creation and rooting out corruption, a message that struck a chord with millions of people.
Huge billboards with Modi's picture have been erected outside the BJP's office in New Delhi, while enthusiastic supporters, waving the party's saffron flag, shouted slogans hailing the new prime minister.
"It's an occasion for celebration for the people of the entire country who have such high expectations from the new leader," said Anupam Kher, Bollywood actor and a longtime party supporter.
Security has been tightened across New Delhi ahead of the ceremony with more than 7,000 police deployed near the sprawling presidential palace, said Mukesh Meena, a police commissioner in New Delhi.
Sharpshooters have been positioned on the roofs of nearby government office buildings and security guards in plainclothes posted at key places, police said. Roads leading to the palace in the heart of the city would be closed to traffic five hours before the ceremony as a security measure, Meena said.