The world sat up and took notice as Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi was sworn in as the 15th Prime Minister of India exactly a week ago. Modi’s stunning victory, announced on May 16, had been carried in all major newspapers across the world, even though it had drawn mixed reactions, with some hailing the results while a few others cautioning against high expectations from the new Government. However, as Modi took oath in a glittering ceremony and the presence of 4,000 people, including South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders, the Modi wave got even mercurial.
Here is what the world media had to say at the time when the new leader set to take his seat in the largest democracy in the world.
United Kingdom’s The Guardian termed Modi a Hindu nationalist politician and said, his “resounding victory in the recent polls and the crushing majority now commanded by the BJP give Modi huge authority”, adding he is at work from the word go. “Modi has already signalled the pace with which he hopes to implement change, and his timetable over the coming days reflects the sense of urgency”.
Significantly, the swearing-in was widely reported in the United States papers. “Narendra Modi sworn in as Indian prime minister, heralding change,” said the headline of the prestigious Los Angeles Times. “Narendra Modi was sworn in Monday as India’s 15th prime minister, offering a new, more conservative government to a country thirsty for economic change,” it said. Taking note of the presence of the leaders of the SAARC, especially Pakistan Premier, the report said: “The ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi was notable for the presence of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who reportedly ignored warnings from his own intelligence agency to attend. Relations have been tense between the two nuclear-armed rivals.”
Tracing the humble and ideological lineage of Modi, The Wall Street Journal said: “Narendra Modi, the son of a tea seller with political roots in India’s Hindu nationalist movement, was sworn in as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, putting in place a leaner central government and promising Indians “a glorious future”. Getting India’s economy growing at a faster clip will be a top priority for Mr Modi, who was propelled to power by voters who want better job opportunities, higher standards of living and a more efficient government,” it said. The Journal added, some analysts say, Modi is likely to make major decisions from the prime minister’s office. “That would mark a departure from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s more hands-off governing style,” it said.
The Chicago Tribune said for the first time, India invited the heads of state of the entire, eight-nation SAARC to the ceremony, and all sent representatives. “However, it was the presence of Sharif, who was said to have made the trip despite the opposition of his country’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, that turned heads,” it said.
Sharif’s presence was also noticed by The Washington Post. “Sharif’s attendance was seen as a gesture of goodwill between the rival nations. It was the largest such gathering in the space.”
“Modi, a lover of technology, had run the most costly, tech-savvy and ambitious political campaign in India’s history, travelling more than 180,000 miles and appearing at more than 5,000 events after he was officially named the party’s choice for prime minister in September,” the Post said.
“Credited for his pro-business approach as the chief of Gujarat,” broadcaster CNN added, “India’s new leader has also raised expectations that his government will succeed in turning around India’s slowing economy, generate more jobs and rein in soaring prices and deeply entrenched corruption, issues that are widely believed to have brought the fall of Singh’s government.”
Closer home, comparing Modi’s focus on development to China’s own experience with reform and economic growth in the 1970s that led to its industrial miracle, the editorial in the influential state-run China Daily newspaper said India could experience a similar trajectory. “A similar belief in and focus on development has brought China where it is today, and such a commitment to development can create an economic miracle next door in the world’s second most-populous country,” the China Daily editorial said. The editorial was carried under the headline “Congratulations to Modi” with sub-headline, saying: “Our best wishes to the people of India and their new, reform-minded prime minister”.
Not only the editorial, the newspaper’s lead story on page one was also on Modi, titled: “Modi to boost ties with China”.
Another editorial in the Chinese nationalistic newspaper Global Times said: “India’s economy is expected to embark on a road of reform and Modi will promote infrastructure development as he did when serving as chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years, which has become a strong aspiration of India’s mainstream society.”
On the other side, The Japan Times noted the sudden instability in the world and the new stress on nationalism, especially in countries like Russia and Japan itself. It wondered if India was going to follow the same route under Modi. “Nationalism, if directed at popular hate figures, usually works well, at least for a while. It may become newly elected Modi’s most obvious temptation. Can he, after a lifetime of encouraging nationalism as an activist, resist it as a national leader?” the editorial, titled ‘Will India’s Modi resist the lure of nationalism?’, said.
The Economist wrote the “Modi era has begun”. It opined that the rise of BJP signals an important shift in Indian politics. “The BJP did extraordinarily well because it approached the election in a far more professional, strategic and efficient way than its rivals. The methods it employed were modern, and the skill at which Mr Modi and his fellow leaders conducted their campaigns rivalled the sort of performances put in by American presidential contenders,” The Economist argued.
Israeli paper The Haaretz noted that in addition to all the other hopes “awakened by the landslide victory of India’s Narendra Modi”, “there is the prospect that he will emerge as the most pro-Israel premier in India’s history. It’s an advent of enormous potential consequence”. The paper opined that Modi’s win was a “chance to bring to full fruition the common interests of Israel and India and America. These have become ever more apparent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Communist empire and the outbreak of the Islamist war against Western democracies.” It went on to say that Israel could feature in “Modi’s plans for the future. Most of the $5 billion in annual trade between Israel and India has been confined to military technology and gemstones – except in Gujarat. But things could change.” International Business Times, another Israel newspaper, which in March called Modi “Israel’s Best Friend in South Asia,” reported that “under Modi’s leadership and encouragement, Israel has poured billions of dollars of investment into Gujarat”. And now, it was time to improve business relations with whole of India.
There emerged a consensus among the world papers that Modi is a strong and decisive leader, qualities India has been eagerly waiting for in its leader. Don’t be too optimistic, was the word of caution of others.