Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday began a two-day visit to India with a warm hug from his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, who took him through a road show to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram and the iconic Sidi Saiyed mosque representing the once syncretic culture of Ahmedabad.
The two leaders took an eight-kilometre journey in an open jeep from Ahmedabad airport to the serene environs of the Sabarmati Ashram where they along with Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe paid floral tributes to a portrait and a bust of Mahatma Gandhi.
All along the route, people lining up both sides of the road cheered and waved at the dignitaries. Modi took the Abes on a tour of the Ashram where the three posed for pictures, including one in front of a ‘charkha’.
The premiers will lay the foundation for the bullet train network in Ahmedabad – connecting Modi’s home state of Gujarat with India’s financial capital Mumbai on Thursday.
With projected top speeds of up to 350km an hour, it will reduce travel time between the two cities from eight hours to three-and-a-half hours.
The new train, which will have a capacity of 750 passengers, is also expected to be safer than the country’s creaking rail network, the world’s fourth largest by distance.
The agreement for the 508-kilometre network was signed in 2016, with plans to make it operational by December 2023.
Nearly 85 per cent of the total project cost of $19 billion will be provided by Tokyo in soft loans, with repayment over 50 years.
Abe’s visit to Ahmedabad comes ahead of Modi’s 67th birthday on Sunday and many have dubbed it as part of his practice of ‘birthday diplomacy’.
“India’s relation with Japan is designed to balance China’s hegemony,” Rajrishi Singhal, a Mumbai-based independent policy consultant, said.
The two countries have close security ties and hold regular joint military exercises. A proposed joint investment of billions of dollars in Africa is set to be the cornerstone of the relationship, Singhal said.
“India truly values the relationship with Japan and we look forward to further boosting our bilateral ties in a wide range of sectors,” Modi tweeted on Tuesday.
The Sabarmati Ashram was home to Gandhi from 1917 until 1930 and served as one of the main centres of the Indian freedom struggle.During Wednesday’s visit, Abe and his wife also signed the visitors’ book at the Ashram.
After spending some time there, Shinzo Abe and Akie Abe went to the Sidi Saiyed mosque in the heart of Ahmedabad, guided by Modi. The 16th century mosque is known the world over for its window filigree work synonymous with Ahmedabad.
Earlier in the day, breaking protocol, Modi personally received Abe at the Sardar Vallabhhai Patel International airport with a warm hug.
Abe was given a guard of honour while artistes from different parts of the country presented a variety of programmes.
The two leaders and Akie Abe then boarded an open vehicle and proceeded from the airport to the Sabarmati Ashram.