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Modi comes through as intensely human, manifestly sincere and spontaneously outgoing

By B S Raghavan
September 04, 2014 13:04 IST
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'By lifting his visit to vibrant new functional and emotional planes, Modi saved it from looking like a mere obligatory give-and-take. This is no mean achievement,' says B S Raghavan.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe smile with Buddhist monks in the background, during their visit to Toji Buddhist temple

Image: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe at the Toji Buddhist temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Kyoto, Japan. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters

Quite significantly, the first country outside the immediate neighbourhood to which India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out with such enthusiastic and heart-warming affirmation of friendship and solidarity is Japan.

From all that is known and evident in Modi's scheme of priorities, this is not fortuitous, but deliberately intended. It is clear from the body language and explicit statements during Modi's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit and with Shinzo Abe in Japan that all the three leaders are hitting it off together in a manner that augurs well for them forging a genuine and sincere bonding for the common good of their countries, the region and, indeed, the world as a whole.

We should not judge the prime minister's visit to Japan by the carefully orchestrated photo-ops or the resoundingly crafted pronouncements. Real time relationships between countries transcend formal parleys and the declarations they generate.

If you spread before yourself and scan the handouts and transcripts of all such pow-wows of the past between countries, you will be astounded to notice that they are all couched almost in the same catchphrases and sentences.

All are for 'strategic partnerships', 'mutual cooperation' in various spheres, 'expanding trade', 'promoting investment', 'protecting the environment', 'warding off climate change', 'contributing to peace and goodwill', 'strengthening the world order', and such resonating rhetoric.

When the interlocutors are tired of using them too often, they dish out some new inventions such as 'game changer', 'architecture', and so on. So the concrete and tangible measures following these trappings and ceremonies acquire importance.

Here is where the hope everyone has about Modi's sense of the practical and his capacity for getting things done sets the visit apart. Another big plus point is that whereas all other prime ministers in the past, except for Jawaharlal Nehru, but including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, could not break out of the stiff and officious mould, Modi comes through as an intensely human, manifestly sincere and spontaneously outgoing personality, rising above all pretentiousness and protocol.

The words and phrases he uses, ('excited,' he said he was about meeting Shinzo Abe) and the means of communication he uses, particularly his pressing into service social media, all combine to reinforce the impression that doing business with him and his government will lead to a win-win outcome for all concerned.

Another fact of which there is ample evidence in all that he utters before audiences that is bound to enhance his credibility is his transparency tantamount to forthrightness in expressing himself.

For instance, on Japanese soil, he did not hesitate to take a sideswipe at China by his public statement that 'Everywhere around us, we see an 18th-century expansionist mindset: encroaching on another country, intruding in others' waters, invading other countries and capturing territory.'

So, when, in the same breath, he also says, 'India, Japan and China, as major countries in Asia, have many common interests and we need to build on them to convert ours into an Asian Century by working together,' no one is left in any doubt that he means it and will put all his weight and authority behind it to bring it about.

But that is still way ahead. In the immediate future, there can be no question of his visit being a diplomatic triumph. The impact of this for India will go beyond the close personal rapport he has established with his Japanese counterpart; it holds the prospect of further deepening and broadening India-Japan relations for a long time to come at the government-to-government, and, most importantly, people-to-people, levels as well, regardless of personalities at the helm.

In short, by lifting his visit to vibrant new functional and emotional planes, Modi has saved it from looking like a mere obligatory give-and-take. This is no mean achievement.

But there is, and has to be, give-and-take in any visit meant to strengthen bilateral relationship. And here is where one is not sure whether the outcome is so spectacular that only Modi could have brought it on.

There was a declaration by Modi that 'We have agreed to give Japan the status of a special strategic and global partner' it sounds grand, but adds little to the scope and content of the relationship that already exists.

Japan and India agreed to speed up talks on the transfer of US-2 amphibian rescue aircraft to India and on the signing of an agreement on civil nuclear power. They will also explore ways of cooperating on defence technology. But there is no specific time table.

Yes, there are sundry deals signed, such as the one on joint production of rare earth materials used in making electronic goods, and those on collaboraton in respect of healthcare, clean and renewable energy, women's development, development of roads and the Kyoto-Varanasi channel. More such agreements are promised on youth exchange, language training, cultural exchange, research and development.

Abe is said to have shown 'particular interest' in Modi's pet project of bullet trains in India, hoping that 'there will be a Japanese bullet train in Mumbai soon,' but then, there is no mention of time-frame and exact quantum of investment, and there is no knowing when it will actually materialise on the ground.

The real meat is in the commitment made by Abe that Japan will invest $35 billion (Rs 2.1 lakh crores) over the next five years in infrastructure and smart cities in India. (Japan has also promised to double its direct investment in India in five years from some $2 billion last year.)

These assurances have received a lot of play in the media, but they have to be contrasted with Japan's yearly investment of close to $15 billion in China and over $10 billion in Thailand in 2013, twice what it invested there in 2012.

India can have nothing but appreciation for the flow of investment at $7 billion per year from Japan. Granted that India cannot expect a single country to meet all its funds requirements, but it still has to be noted that the Japanese investment will only be a tiny part considering the size of India, and the huge leeway it has to make in terms of fulfillment of needs and demands.

The prime minister should also know that a number of similar proposals included in the agreements signed by his predecessors in the past are still awaiting implementation, despite task forces having been formed for the purpose.

Thus, there are many substantive areas that have been left dangling, either for further examination or awaiting utilisation. With his penchant for execution, prime minister must now put on fast track action the proposals agreed upon during his Japanese odyssey, so that the fine print matches the hype.

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