Updated: 05/26/2014 13:45 | By Agence France-Presse

Modi to be sworn in as India's new PM

Narendra Modi will be sworn in as India's prime minister Monday, with the pro-business leader already signalling bold intentions by slashing his cabinet and welcoming his Pakistani counterpart to the ceremony.

Modi to be sworn in as India's new PM

Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, pays tribute at Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatama Gandhi, in New Delhi on May 26, 2014 - by Prakash Singh

After a decade of left-leaning Congress party rule, the 63-year-old Hindu nationalist is set to steer India firmly to the right in the next five years, armed with a powerful mandate after a landslide election victory.

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, paid a visit to the memorial of India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi early Monday, before then stopping to meet Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his party's only previous premier, who is now confined to his home in Delhi at the age of 89.

His new cabinet was expected to be announced ahead of his inauguration at 6:00pm (1230 GMT) and Modi indicated in a statement late Sunday that the number of ministries would be sharply reduced.

"Keeping our commitment to 'Minimum Government, Maximum Governance' we have made an unprecedented and positive change in Ministry formation," he also said on his official Twitter feed.

Modi, son of a tea-stall owner, secured the biggest majority in 30 years at the election, trouncing the scandal-plagued Congress on a promise of reviving manufacturing and investment to create millions of jobs.

His pledge to overhaul the flagging economy won over voters, along with his rags-to-riches story and reputation as a clean and efficient chief minister of prosperous western Gujarat state.

Critics claimed Modi would favour the Hindu majority at the expense of the country's 150 million Muslims and other religious minorities, but the warnings failed to dent his rise.

Many Muslims remain deeply suspicious of Modi, who is tainted by communal riots in Gujarat in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Modi has denied he failed to stop the bloodshed and a court investigation found he had no case to answer.

The invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been interpreted as a significant olive branch to India's Muslim neighbour and it marks the first time that a leader from either country has attended his counterpart's inauguration since independence in 1947. 

Sharif, who has hailed Modi's "impressive victory", accepted the invite which was extended to all heads of government from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which includes Pakistan.

- Reason for optimism -

Ordinary Indians and business leaders have sky-high expectations of what Modi will deliver in a chaotic and still poor country that is home to a sixth of humanity. With the economy growing at under five percent, analysts warn bold reforms are needed.

In a rare sign of emotion last week, Modi choked back tears as he promised to try to live up to the expectations of all Indians including "our weakest and poorest" during a speech in parliament. 

Modi and his cabinet will be sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan or president's palace in New Delhi amid tight security in a ceremony with at least 3,000 guests, according to local media.

Along with Sharif, other national leaders attending include Afghanistan's outgoing President Hamid Karzai, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

Modi will hold bilateral talks with Sharif on Tuesday with hopes the two can thaw ties and even take steps towards improving trade.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and bilateral ties broke down after the 2008 attacks by Pakistani gunmen on Mumbai in which 166 people were killed.

Relations warmed slightly toward the end of the term of outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but still remain frosty, with mutual distrust and regular skirmishes along their disputed Kashmir border.

Sharif has cited his working relationship with Vajpayee as a reason for optimism, according to diplomatic sources. 

In 1999, during Sharif's second term in power, Vajpayee rode a bus to the Pakistani city of Lahore to sign a peace accord and raise hopes of normalised ties. But three months later, the neighbours embarked on the Kargil conflict in Kashmir that almost became a full-fledged war.

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