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Modi-Abe meet: Of hugs, roadshows, cultural dekko and dinner diplomacy

Sohini Das & Vinay Umarji/Ahmedabad 14 Sep 17 | 09:13 AM

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad (Photo: PTI)

In a first by two Prime Ministers, India's Narendra Modi and Japan's Shinzo Abe participated in an eight kilometre long roadshow in Ahmedabad dotted with cultural performances that showcased a slice of India to the visiting dignitary. Later, the two leaders engaged in tete-a-tete over a Gujarati-Japanese dinner at a city heritage hotel where they discussed about strengthening areas of "multi-faceted cooperation" between the two countries.

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The highlight of the day's events, however, was Modi's guided tour to Abe and his spouse Akie Abe of the 400-year-old Sidi Saiyed Mosque in the eastern fringes of old Ahmedabad - his first visit to a mosque in India as PM. 

The 16th-century monument, India's only Unesco World Heritage City, is famous for its intricate stone lattice work. 

Dusk is the best time to visit this monument when the filtered sun rays through the lattice create intricate patterns on the sand stone walls. A native of Gujarat, Modi chose this very moment to take Abe around the mosque as he explained its deep-rooted Indo-Islamic architectural heritage. 

The two leaders walked right across the road to a heritage hotel where they bonded over an Indo-Japanese dinner. Representatives from major corporate houses from Japan were also present in a closed door bilateral meeting in the evening. It is believed that possible cooperation in the areas of defence and future of India-Japan nuclear ties were discussed in the meeting. 

Political observers believe that in recent times Japan has emerged as the most significant strategic partner for India and this relationship can act as the cornerstone of South Asian diplomacy. It is also the first visit by any country head to India after the Doklam stand-off and that too from none other than Japan which had come out openly in India's support during the recent conflict.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe ride an open vehicle during their roadshow in Ahmedabad (Photo: PTI)

It's not a surprise that Abe chose to restrict his India visit this time for the 12th Indo-Japan Annual Summit Meeting in Gandhinagar to Gujarat only given the western state's growing ties with Japan. Around $1 billion worth foreign direct investment (FDI) has flown into Gujarat from Japanese companies and agencies and the number is expected to double in the coming years. 

While Abe is here for foundation stone laying ceremony for India's first high speed train project - popularly called the Bullet train - between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, around 15 MoUs is expected to be signed on September 14 in Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar. Of this, four Japanese corporate giants are expected to sign investment proposals worth Rs 1 lakh crore each. In all the total investment amount including SME investments and the Bullet train is expected to cross Rs 5 lakh crore.

The two-day visit of the Japanese premier that began with a warm hug between the two country heads started on a high note on Wednesday afternoon at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in the city. Abe was greeted by Buddhist monks while hundreds of artists performed folk dance forms as the two leaders walked the red carpet. Abe was also accorded a tri-services guard of honour. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad on Wednesday Photo: Yasin D

Soon after alighting at the Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport, Abe and his wife changed into traditional Indian attires (Abe sporting a royal blue Nehru jacket and Akie Abe a pink silk kurta), as they drove through an eight km stretch through the Sabarmati River Front to the Gandhi Ashram on the riverbanks.

Over 3,000 students and 1,500 performers presented a slice of India at 28 points dotted along this route.

Folk dance forms from 28 states of India were performed for the Japanese delegation that was clicking photographs as the convoy passed.

Modi, Abe and his wife waved at the cheering crowd untiringly as the crowd that had gathered since morning waved the Indian and Japanese national flags. 

Dinner was an all-vegetarian affair prepared by Indian and Japanese chefs. 

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