Indian has always been friendly towards Japan. It has been visited by such notable Indians as Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda.
The Japanese now want to get closer to India after a long lull. In the first place, its economy is not doing well and is looking for cheap labour beyond China. In the second place it is having an increasingly growing ageing population which can be a hurdle to rising growth. In the third place Japan is learning from experience that there is a limit to what it can get from China which is currently hosting over 90,000 Japanese firms while India hardly hosts 2,000. In the fourth place, two years ago, a survey by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation showed about 75 per cent of the Japanese business placed India as “the most promising country ahead of China, Brazil, Vietnam and even the United States”. Then there is a personal element in Indo-Japanese relations. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considers Dr Manmohan Singh as his guru or mentor.
As of now Japanese aid comes to mean the Delhi Metro, not to speak of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and Chennai-Bengaluru high speed rail link.
Currently Indo-Japanese bilateral trade stands at a paltry 18 billion dollars which can be raised ten fold if both Governments take up the matter seriously. As the Indian media has noted, as millions of Indians move from their ever-shrinking farms to the cities, only to find themselves jobless, building a Japanese style infra-structure could be just what the doctor ordered.
Tokyo’s move towards by passing its decades-old embargo on exporting military hardware to sell US-2i amphibious planes to New Delhi is a good beginning. That Japan is serious about expanding Indo-Japanese trade relations becomes evident from the fact that Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan is going to invest 488 million dollars to set up a car factory in Gujarat which was originally proposed by Maruti-Suzuki India. But why Gujarat? Few know of the links which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has made with Japan during his 2007 visit to Japan.
Modi, the first Indian Chief Minister to visit Japan was followed by close to 120 Japanese investors visiting Gujarat on January 18, 2012. Modi was even officially invited to visit Japan. In 2007 Modi had met Abe as also the then Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba. The Mizuno Corporation Bank arranged for Modi to have one-to-one meetings with some of Japan’s top Industrial and banking executives. Modi told them about Gujarat’s new vibrant textile policy and of the Textile Park Policy which was based on five ‘Fs’—Farm, Fiber, Fabric, Fashion and Foreign. The list of top people that Modi met during his 5-day stay in Japan is mind-boggling.
According to official resources, Modi met with more than 2,000 companies varying from medium to fortune—500 companies. These sources have noted that ‘at every place and forum, at every meeting and reception, the response was unimaginable’ showing ‘the keenness of Japan to understand Gujarat as a formidable location to grow in and a lucrative location to live in’.
Maheshwar Sahu, Principal Secretary, Government of Gujarat was quoted as saying that the Government planned to build a 600-hectare township near the Maruti Suzuki India Ltd’s manufacturing factory at Hansalpur, near Mehsana. How Japan industry will respond to India if Narendra Modi gets elected as Prime Minister of India is another matter.
Prime Minister Abe has already made it clear that he views Delhi as an important part of changing way of looking at things. Tokyo is also coming to see India in strategic light. It is not for nothing that Japan’s Emperor Hirohito and Empress Michiko spent some precious time in India.
Now it is for India to respond adequately and meaningfully.