BJP must be in trouble in Gujarat for Modi to get Japan PM Shinzo Abe to ‘campaign’
Ever since Narendra Modi left Gujarat to become Prime Minister in 2014, the BJP was forced to appoint two chief ministers in a bid to retain its hold on the state. The state is now gearing up for its first Assembly poll since Modi’s exit. Given this context, the PM taking his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to the state seems part of the BJP’s all-out efforts to win the polls.
PM Abe is on a two-day visit to India and he will be spending both the days in Modi's home state. Apart from the 12th India-Japan Annual Summit and an India Japan Business Plenary, other items on Abe’s itinerary include a roadshow across Ahmedabad, a function to mark the commencement of work of the high-speed rail project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, a civic reception, a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, a visit to a 16th century mosque in Ahmedabad and a visit to Dandi Kutir, the museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.
It is rare for foreign dignitaries to spend their visits to India entirely in a regional capital and not New Delhi. The fact that this special exception has been made for Ahmedabad indicates BJP's eagerness to focus on optics ahead of the Assembly polls. Ahmedabad is Modi's home ground and by getting his ‘friend’ Abe to visit the city and create headlines along with him, the PM would like that to work towards enhancing his image as a world leader, with incidental benefits for his party.
Modi had created ground for similar optics on at least two occasions earlier, with negligible results in one and quite disastrous in another. Abe is not the first foreign dignitary to be brought to Ahmedabad by Modi and paraded as a close friend. The PM had also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad in September 2014, as a part of the latter's three-day trip that also took him to Delhi.
Modi and Jinping spent nearly an hour at the Sabarmati riverfront, taking a stroll, sitting on a swing and watching traditional folk dances. The attempt was to give out a message of deep camaraderie, a hope that was soon belied by China's decision to escalate tensions with India on multiple fronts. The latest episode was the over two month long stand-off between armies of both the nations at Doklam, which nearly brought the nations at war with each other.
In December 2015, Abe visited India and Modi took him to the Parliamentary constituency he represents, Varanasi. The two leaders attended a grand aarti organised on the banks of the Ganga, against the background of Modi securing Japanese funds to clean the river. Modi also promised to transform Varanasi into a city like Kyoto, as a part of the 'smart cities mission'.
Modi himself had visited Kyoto in August 2014 and the Kyoto-Varanasi Partner City Agreement was signed there. Three years later, neither is Ganga any closer to being cleaned nor is Varanasi any closer to becoming a smart city. The high-speed rail is also yet to take off, essentially proving India-Japan ties under Modi to be mere theatrics.
The undue advantage that Gujarat is getting under Modi is evident in many other ways. However, this is a rare moment in Indian politics when a prime minister is using a state visit by another prime minister to help his party in polls to a state Assembly.