The invitation to be chief guest for India’s Republic Day celebrations was extended to Shinzo Abe personally by Manmohan Singh over a private dinner in Tokyo that the Japanese PM hosted for the Indian leader and his wife in May 2013 in Tokyo. There were many reasons for Abe’s accepting it. Some were personal and stems from his grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, and his attachment to India. Kishi was the first post-war Japanese PM to visit India in 1957 and he never forgot what Jawaharlal Nehru told a crowd while introducing him: “This is the prime minister of Japan, a country I hold in greatest esteem”.
But his personal chemistry with Manmohan is another important factor. I think Abe genuinely believes in what he told a Sapru House gathering in 2007: “A strong India is in the best interest of Japan and a strong Japan is in the best interest of India”. This belief has been gaining wider acceptance in Japan. Abe’s India visit comes shortly after that of the Japanese emperor and empress—two back-to-back high-level visits to a country is a rarity in Japanese planning—and shows the growing significance of India in the Japanese calculus. It has to be said at this juncture that India needs to convey to the Japanese people the significance and prestige attached to the chief guest at its R-Day ceremony. But the question remains—why does Japan place so much significance on India?
One definite reason is China. Had it not been for its aggressive posture, the pace of Japan-India relations would be much slower. Abe’s visit comes at a critical time. China has been making dangerous, provocative gestures against Japan over the Senkaku islands in East China Sea. China’s decision to set up the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea last November and the regular intrusion into Japanese territorial waters by Chinese ships have raised tensions. They also spurred Shinzo Abe’s decision to visit the Yasukuni shrine in December. His visit led to condemnation from various quarters, including the United States.
Although such criticism did not manage to marginalise Japan in any way, reaffirming and strengthening bilateral ties with India under such circumstances means so much for Japan.
Just like Japan’s maritime dispute with China, India shares similar concerns over border disputes with China. Securing freedom of navigation from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean is crucial for both countries. Some say the purpose of Abe’s visit is to ‘encircle’ a muscle-flexing China. Neither Japan nor India would acknowledge this. But let’s face it, China is a threat and we share the same concern. It is surprising that India, normally nervous in handling anything concerning China, has decided to host Abe at this time. Its political significance will not be lost on China. I think India too has decided to send a message that Japan and India are on the same page when it comes to assessing China.
Makiko Takita is a Tokyo-based writer for the Japanese daily, Sankei Shimbum; E-mail your columnist: makikotakita AT gmail.com
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The conventional wisdom - often applied to Indo - Pak relations - is that deeper economic engagement will help dissolve old enmities. That is being proved wrong by China in recent years. The largest trading nation, the second largest economy, deeply invested in the rest of the world, but at odds with almost everyone in its extended neighbourhood, except North Korea and Pakistan. Even without the enormous economic synergies that are possible between India and Japan, there are powerful reasons for them to forge a strategic relationship. Had 1991 happened about a decade earlier and been pursued more forcefully, the economic landscape of Asia would have looked different.
Fact is - Indo Japanese relationship is only relationship where both nations need each other in equal measure.
Throw in South Korea and we are in for a durable, long term partnership that is win win for all and can be a potent challenge to unquestioned Chinese domination in Asia. And I am sure the CPM types will soon need to add Japan and South Korea to their definition of enemies.
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