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New Delhi: Indian lawmakers begin taking oath at the opening of parliament on Monday after an election setback forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi into a coalition government for the first time in a decade.

In the first session, which will run until July 3, is a preview of Modi’s plans for a third term and the likely formal appointment of Rahul Gandhi as the leader of the opposition – a post vacant since 2014.

Modi’s first two terms followed landslide victories for his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), allowing his government to push laws through parliament with only perfunctory debates.
But analysts now expect Modi, 73, to moderate his Hindu-nationalist agenda to appease his coalition partners, focusing more on infrastructure, social welfare and economic reforms.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kiren Rijiju called for a “peaceful and productive” session on Monday, but Indian media said they expected a lively debate with a much stronger opposition.
“All set for battle,” read a headline in the Hindustan Times on Monday.

“Resurgent opposition prepares to oust government,” added the front page of the Indian Express.

Rahul Gandhi, 54, defied analysts’ expectations to help his Congress party double its parliamentary numbers, its best showing since Modi came to power a decade ago.

Gandhi is the scion of a dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for decades, and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of former prime ministers, beginning with independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru.

Parliamentary rules require the leader of the opposition to come from a party that leads at least 10 percent of MPs in the 543-seat lower house.

The post has been vacant for 10 years since two dismal election results for the Congress – once India’s dominant party – left it below that threshold.

The parliamentary session will begin with newly elected deputies taking the oath in the first two days.

Many will be watching to see if two elected lawmakers from behind bars, staunch opponents of Modi, will be allowed to join.

One is Sikh separatist Amritpal Singh, a preacher who was arrested last year after a month-long police manhunt in Punjab state.

The second is Sheikh Abdul Rashid, a former state legislator from Indian-administered Kashmir.

It is unclear whether any will be granted bail to attend the ceremony in person.

Modi’s decade as prime minister has seen him cultivate an image as an aggressive champion of the country’s majority Hindu faith, worrying minorities, including the country’s 200 million-plus Muslim community.

But his BJP won just 240 seats in this year’s poll, 32 short of a majority in the lower house – its worst showing in a decade.

It left the BJP to rely on a diverse array of minor parties to govern.

Modi has kept key posts unchanged in this government and the cabinet remains dominated by the BJP.

This includes BJP loyalists Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Nitin Gadkari, Nirmala Sitharaman and S. Jaishankar – the ministers of defence, home, transport, finance and remaining in their jobs respectively.

But in his 71-member government, 11 posts went to coalition allies who extracted him in exchange for their support – including five in the top 30 cabinet posts.

Many will also consider the election of the speaker, a powerful post that oversees the workings of the lower house, and MPs are due to vote on Wednesday.

Coalition allies covet the post, but others suggest Modi will field a BJP candidate.

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