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    May 28, 2014

    India's new govt gets down to work


    INDIA'S Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, held landmark talks with his Pakistani counterpart and announced his new Cabinet yesterday, in a high-energy start to his term in office.

    The morning after Mr Modi and his slimmed-down team of ministers were sworn in, the right-wing leader hosted Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in a bid to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

    The two leaders shook hands and smiled for the cameras on the steps of a government building in central New Delhi before heading inside for almost an hour-long meeting that ran over its allotted time.

    It is the first time an Indian prime minister has hosted a Pakistani leader for official talks in New Delhi since the rupture in relations that followed the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.

    "The PM underlined our concerns relating to terrorism. It was conveyed that Pakistan must abide by its commitment to prevent its territory and territory under its control from being used for terrorism against India," newly appointed Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh told reporters after the meeting.

    Mr Modi said the two countries could move towards normalising trade ties that have been held hostage to their political differences.

    Mr Sharif said that top diplomats from Pakistan and India would meet soon to advance peace talks.

    The talks between the two leaders came hours after Mr Modi put an end to days of speculation and announced his Cabinet.

    Arun Jaitley, a 61-year-old lawyer, emerged as the most powerful man after Mr Modi, with the critical finance and defence portfolios.

    Rajnath Singh, the president of Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is the new home affairs minister.

    Said Mr Jaitley: "I am conscious of the fact that I am taking over at a challenging time, particularly when there is a need to restore confidence in the Indian economy.

    "The challenges are very obvious. We have to restore the pace of growth, contain inflation and obviously concentrate on fiscal consolidation."

    Mr Modi named a government of 46 members including himself - 25 fewer than in the outgoing government headed by the left-leaning Congress party.

    Several government ministries have been clubbed under one minister, aimed at breaking decision-making bottlenecks widely blamed for dragging down economic growth.

    "The Modi era begins with high hopes," said Satish Misra, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

    "There is no scope for an excuse by him after getting a huge mandate to run the country."