New Delhi: Outside the sandstone palace that was built for the viceroy of British-ruled India, before a crowd that included corporate titans, Bollywood heartthrobs and saffron-robed Hindu holy men, Narendra Modi, the son of a provincial tea-seller, was sworn in Monday as India's prime minister.
In recent years, the swearing-in ceremony has been a smaller and more sedate affair, but Modi made it into a showcase for his regional ambitions, inviting his counterparts from the seven other members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan accepted the invitation after some hesitation, and his attendance - hinting that the two countries might revitalize a moribund peace process - provided much of the day's solemnity. After the ceremony, Sharif strode up to Modi and shook his hand warmly in congratulation, an image that seemed likely to eclipse the installation of the new government.
Modi, writing on Twitter after a celebratory banquet, said the two men had a cordial exchange, raising hopes ahead of a short bilateral meeting Tuesday.
He wrote that, "in my conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he shared some very emotional things." The Pakistani premier, Modi continued, "told me that he stays in Islamabad, but goes to meet his mother once in a week. This time, when he was eating with his mother, he saw visuals on TV of my mother offering me sweets."
Four thousand people were invited to Monday's ceremony, and there was no shortage of pomp. Red carpets had been laid out on the sand outside the palace, now home to India's president, and palace guards stood at attention in ornate uniforms that evoked the Raj. As night fell, a peacock walked the length of the palace's roof, silhouetted precisely against the sky of the capital.
Modi, 63, left his family home as a teenager, adopting the ascetic discipline of an activist for a Hindu nationalist organization. He has lived a solitary life since then, and among the millions of Indians who watched Monday's ceremony on television was his mother, Hiraben, who was with a group of relatives in his home state of Gujarat.
A brother of Modi told NDTV, a news channel, that relatives feared their presence would cause Modi problems.
"We just want to make sure that no trouble should be caused to him due to us," said the brother, Somabhai Modi. "We don't want to give a chance to anyone to allege that Modi believes in nepotism. Thus, we haven't gone to Delhi to attend the ceremony."
Ten days had passed since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party won a commanding victory in India's general elections, garnering 282 of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament. It is the largest mandate ever to be won by a party other than the Indian National Congress, allowing the BJP to form a government without wooing any postelection allies, and has freed Modi to take steps that would otherwise have left him vulnerable.
Among them was his unexpected move to invite the regional leaders, a move that risked angering state leaders in India.
Indeed, the influential chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, boycotted the swearing-in over the inclusion of President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, who fought for more than two decades against rebels from his country's Tamil minority. But the message had come across clearly that state leaders would no longer be allowed to drive India's foreign policy.
Modi spent much of this week eliminating and merging ministries, which have proliferated as previous governments tried to create positions for allies. A council of 45 ministers was sworn in Monday, compared with 71 under the previous government. Crucial appointments, as predicted, are going to Modi's closest aides - Arun Jaitley is expected to head the Finance Ministry, and Rajnath Singh, the leader of the BJP, to head the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Here, too, is a sign that things are changing in Delhi: All week, reporters were waiting for word on whom Modi would put in charge of key ministries. But the leaks generally come from the allies of the governing party, and this time, there were none, even in The Times of India, said Ashok Malik, a columnist.
"They have no idea who his ministers are," Malik said. "The country's biggest paper essentially has no idea. This takes us back to the time when the prime minister was supremely powerful."
The swearing-in was held in the open air to accommodate the larger crowd, and a high temperature of 107 degrees was recorded at midday. When Modi arrived, a ripple went through the crowd, which began chanting his name.
Babu Patel, a Gujarati who operates a chain of hotels from Niagara Falls, New York, said he had spent months calling relatives in India on behalf of Modi's campaign and could not bear to miss Monday's ceremony.
"We want to see the change," he said. "We want to see our iron man of India."
© 2014, The New York Times News Service