Personal touch: Modi chooses where Abe should eat, what he should visit
AHMEDABAD: In what was probably the first such welcome accorded to a head of government on Indian soil, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and his host and counterpart Narendra Modi participated in a roadshow from Ahmedabad airport to Sabarmati Ashram.
Abe, who lost no time after he got off his plane in getting dressed in a kurta-pyjama and what's come to be known as Modi jacket these days, seemed to thoroughly enjoy the open-top Gypsy ride as he and wife Akie, who wore a salwar-kurta, waved constantly at the crowds gathered along the 8-km route.
Modi, as expected, greeted Abe with a warm hug at the airport. The jury may still be out on the efficacy of personalized diplomacy but that hasn't prevented Modi from taking, as Indian officials here put it, unprecedented interest in Abe's visit, right from choosing the restaurant for the welcome dinner to deciding which historical monument to take Abe to in what is India's first Unesco World Heritage City.
Artistes from practically every Indian state performed along the route to the ashram. Modi received Abe and his wife once again at the 16th century Sidi Saeed mosque where they spent a few minutes admiring the intricately carved jaali (lattice work) on the windows. The two leaders then walked across the road to the renowned restaurant Agashiye where local and Delhi chefs whipped up a medley of Gujarati and Japanese flavours.
Modi's interest in the visit is remarkable considering India-Japan summits are now annual affairs, with this being his fourth with Abe. The roadshow, and foundation stone laying ceremony of the bullet train on Thursday, will likely remain the defining images of Abe's visit to Ahmedabad.
In a way though, the visit also marks the limits of personalised diplomacy which Modi is known for. Abe's visit will naturally be compared with that of Chinese President Xi Jinping's here in 2014 when Modi and Xi famously sat on a traditional swing on the Sabarmati riverfront.
The Xi visit happened in the middle of a border standoff and it didn't end immediately even after Modi took it up with the Chinese president on the banks of the Sabarmati. The fact that China has continued to show little understanding of India's position on three major issues — CPEC, India's NSG membership bid and proposed UN ban on JeM chief Masood Azhar — and the recent Doklam standoff gave the opposition a stick to beat him with in the form of his 2014 'swing diplomacy', as his detractors called it .
In the case of Japan though, both countries' strategic interests have increasingly converged, sharply underlining the argument that for personalised, or hug, diplomacy to work, forging common ground is essential. Japan was the only major country to come out openly in favour of India in the recent Sino-Indian military standoff at Doklam.
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