Change in India: New prime minister starts on a positive note

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Newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his new administration with a generous, impressive list of invitees to his inauguration.

Attendees at the May 26 ceremony in New Delhi included the presidents, prime ministers or top officials of sometimes prickly Indian neighbors Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The most significant attendee was Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with whom Mr. Modi held an hourlong meeting. The two exchanged shawls for their mothers.

India and Pakistan have fought wars three times since independence in 1947. Kashmir remains disputed between them. Both nations possess nuclear weapons. Kashmir and mutually sponsored terrorism against the other remain serious bones of contention between them and dialogue is on-again, off-again.

Mr. Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party won a large victory, 282 out of 543 seats, in India’s recent elections, a clear majority requiring no coalition to govern, is now in a strong position to negotiate better relations with Pakistan. He and his party have reputations as Hindu nationalists — even anti-Muslim to a degree — and thus are shielded from criticism if they now take reasonable positions on the subject of relations with Pakistan.

Mr. Modi’s election and his campaign positions initially raised concerns on the part of the United States and other countries that desire peace in the South Asian subcontinent. 

 The new prime minister has also pledged to reset India’s economy back toward growing prosperity in the face of some slippage from former higher growth rates. Some of the measures that he will be forced to employ to bring that about, particularly including a vigorous attack on widespread corruption in the country, will provoke criticism. 

 At that point he might be tempted to defend his overall position by distracting his Hindu-majority supporters with foreign affairs distractions, including a more heated relationship with Pakistan.

Mr. Modi’s invitation to Mr. Sharif, and what appears to have been a positive meeting at his inauguration, indicate a more positive approach to the relationship, which could have good results for both countries as well as for regional peace.

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