The Free Express Journal, February 20 2014: India has always been friendly towards Japan. Notable Indians such as Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda have visited that country. True, it had imperial ambitions as did Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, but those were such days when Tokyo felt it could take a leaf from European books. It attacked China when it was ruled by warlords and there was hardly any central authority worth the name. A weak China, like a weak India, attracted outside forces. During the second world war, Japanese forces came close to the north-east provinces, but it must be remembered that behind those forces was the Indian National Army, headed by Subhas Chandra Bose. Then, following the defeat of Japan by the Allied Forces, an international military tribunal brought General Hideki Tojo to trial, and it was an Indian judge on the panel, Radhabinod Pal, who stood by Japan – a fact that Japan has never forgotten. The Japanese now want to get closer to India after a lull. In the first place, its economy is not doing well and it is looking for cheap labour beyond China. In the second place, it has an increasing ageing population, which could be a hurdle to rising growth. In the third place, Japan is learning from experience that there is a limit to what it can get from China, which is currently hosting over 90,000 Japanese firms, while India hardly hosts 2,000. In the fourth place, two years ago, a survey by the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation showed about 75 per cent of Japanese business placed India as “the most promising country”, ahead of China, Brazil, Vietnam and even the United States. Then there is a personal element in Indo-Japanese relations. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considers Manmohan Singh as his guru or mentor, if we are to believe Tomohiko Taniguchi, a close aide of the Japanese Prime Minister. As of now, Japanese aid comes to mean the Delhi metro, not to speak of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) and the Chennai-Bangalore high speed rail link. When completed, these will catapult India into the top rungs of the international trading system. Currently Indo-Japanese bilateral trade stands at a paltry $18 billion, which can be raided tenfold, if both governments take up the matter seriously. As the Indian media has noted, as millions of Indians move from their ever–shrinking farms to the cities, only to find themselves jobless, building a Japanese style infrastructure could be just what the doctor ordered. Tokyo’s move towards by passing its decades–old embargo on exporting military hardware to sell Us-2i amphibious planes to New Delhi is a good beginning. That Japan is serious about expanding Indo-Japanese trade relations becomes evident from the fact that the Suzuki Motor Corporation of Japan is going to invest $488 million (about Rs 3,650 crore) to set up a car factory in Gujarat, which was originally proposed by Maruti-Suzuki India. The Suzuki investment in the Mehsana plant will be through Suzuki Motor Gujarat, a new subsidiary. The plant will be ready by 2017 and will supply cars exclusively to Maruti-Suzuki. But why Gujarat? Few know of the links which Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has made with Japan during his 2007 visit to Japan. Modi, the first Indian Chief Minister to visit Japan, was followed by close to 120 Japanese investors visiting Gujarat on January 18, 2012. Modi was even officially invited to visit to Japan. In 2007, Modi had met Abe, as also the then Japanese foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba. The Mizuno Corporation Bank arranged for Modi to have one-to-one meetings with some of Japan’s top industrial and banking executives. He told them about Gujarat’s new vibrant textile policy and of the Textile Policy Park, which was based on five ‘Fs’-Farm, Fibre, Fabric, Fashion and Foreign. The list of top people that Modi met during his five-day stay in Japan is mind-boggling. It included ministers, vice ministers, ex-prime minister, Parliamentarians, governors of provinces, chairmen of various bodies. According to official sources, Modi met with more than 2,000 companies, varying from medium to Fortune 500 companies. These sources have noted that “at every place and forum, at every meeting and reception, the response was unimaginable,” showing “the keenness of Japan to understand Guajrat as a formidable location to grow in and a lucrative location to live in.” Reportedly, representatives of industries, including JETRO, JICA, JBIC, Keidanren and four province-based chambers of commerce expressed “unequivocal confidence and interest to work in and with Gujarat.” Later, Maheshwar Sahu, principal secretary, government of Gujarat, was quoted as saying that the government planned to build a 600-hectare township near the Maruti-Suzuki India Ltd’s manufacturing factory at Hansalpur, near Mehsana. How Japan’s industry will respond to India if Narendra Modi gets elected as Prime Minister of India is another matter. As matters stand, one gets the impression that Tokyo is in the midst of re-orienting its foreign policy and strategic posture. Prime Minister Abe has already made it clear that he views Delhi as an important part of a changing way of looking at things. Tokyo is also coming to see India in a strategic light. It is not for nothing that Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko spent some precious time in India, though neither got much publicity. That could possibly be because neither wanted to be hounded by the media all the time. What is important to remember is what Masakazu Sakakida, President, Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently said. He said in clear terms that with over 1,000 Japanese companies already operating in India “intellectuals, industrialists and others” will help facilitate the development of trade and industry between India and Japan.” It is for India to respond adequately and meaningfully.