The heat had subsided somewhat from the nearly 45 degrees Celsius recorded in the afternoon and the sun had set behind the big dome of the Rashtrapati Bhavan by the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi walked up to the lectern to take the office for a second term at 7.03 pm on Thursday.
As Modi concluded his oath three minutes later at a picturesque ceremony on the forecourts of the 90-year-old red sandstone building, over a couple of thousand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters, several of them dressed in saffron kurtas, vests and even saris, rent the air with shouts of Bharat Mata Ki Jai and Vande Mataram.
If Modi received the loudest of the cheers, party supporters clapped and raised slogans with verve for party chief Amit Shah, who debuted in the Union Cabinet and took oath of office after Modi and Rajnath Singh, making him senior to Nitin Gadkari and others in the order of precedence, better known as the protocol list.
Smriti Irani, who defeated Congress President Rahul Gandhi, and young leader Anurag Thakur taking oath moved supporters, sapped by the heat, to cheer them.
By the time 64-year-old Pratap Chandra Sarangi, BJP’s MP from Balasore in Odisha, came to take oath, much of the crowd had become tired of taking selfies and bored enough to troop out of the ground. As Sarangi’s name was announced, those present were surprised that Sarangi, who had weaved his way from the last row of seats on the dais, received the loudest cheers. Sarangi, also known as ‘Odisha’s Modi’, lives a Spartan life in a thatched hut. According to his affidavit submitted to the Election Commission, Sarangi has not paid income-tax in the last five financial years since he did not have a taxable income.
Heads of state, government or their representatives of BIMSTEC member states, Kyrgyzstan and Mauritius attended the ceremony, as did several industrialists, including Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and his family, and personalities from diverse fields.
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Most ministers took the oath of office in Hindi, with exceptions being ministers who hail from southern states, including Nirmala Sitharaman, D V Sadanand Gowda, and others. Most also took the oath in the name of God with exceptions being Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale of the Republican Party of India (A) and BJP’s Suresh Angadi.
As the evening began, the gathered crowd buzzed with anticipation when former foreign secretary S Jaishankar made his way to his seat. He was one of the first to arrive, and soon a guessing game began if Sushma Swaraj, the external affairs minister, in the first Modi government dropped from the Council of Ministers.
Another speculation, of Shah likely to become the deputy prime minister, was quelled when it became apparent that Rajanth Singh is to be No. 2 in the order of precedence.
President Ram Nath Kovind provided vigour to the swearing-in ceremony that was otherwise becoming tiresome for most who had taken to move about despite appeals before the ceremony that decorum be maintained.
Reminiscent of him correcting Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tej Pratap, the eldest son of Lalu Prasad, in 2015 when Kovind was the governor of Bihar, the President took to correcting the Hindi pronunciation of several of the ministers, and even making them repeat a sentence when they skipped words.