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Narendra Modi’s third term as India’s prime minister may prove the most challenging

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office for a third consecutive term on Sunday, but it may hold more challenges for the popular-but-polarizing leader than his past decade in power.

His Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which won by landslides in 2014 and 2019, failed to secure a majority to govern on its own this time, though his National Democratic Alliance coalition with the BJP and other parties won enough seats for a slim parliamentary majority.

Modi and his Cabinet members took the oath of office, administered by President Droupadi Murmu, at India’s presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Needing support from his regional allies to maintain his power means Modi may have to adapt to a style of governance he has little experience with, or desire for.

Modi, 73, is only the second Indian prime minister to win a third straight term. He has presided over a fast-growing economy while advancing Hindu nationalism.

To supporters, he is a larger-than-life figure who has improved India’s standing in the world, helped make its economy the world’s fifth-largest, and streamlined the country’s vast welfare program, which serves around 60% of the population. To some, he may even be more than human.

But to critics, he’s a cult leader who has eroded India’s democracy and advanced divisive politics targeting Muslims, who make up 14% of the country’s population. They say he has also increasingly wielded strong-arm tactics to subdue political opponents, squeeze independent media and quash dissent.

Modi’s government has rejected such accusations and says democracy is flourishing.

Political analysts say Modi’s victory was driven by social welfare programs that provided benefits from food to