Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's two-day (September 13-14) visit to India was billed, among others, as an effort to further cement their strategic alliance. The visit took place in the wake of a more than two-month-long stand-off between China and India at Doklam/Donglang. Though an economic agenda was attached to it, the visit was primarily to forge an anti-China strategic alliance with the blueprint outlining military cooperation across the Indo-Pacific region. India even went further to declare its willingness to work with Japan to compel North Korea to denuclearise.
Meanwhile, Japan itself is using the crisis in the Korean Peninsula to speed up its rearmament programme and to eliminate remaining constitutional restraints to do so. Abe is devising a grand plan to build a military alliance going beyond his quadrilateral military alliance involving Australia, India, Japan and the United States to eventually include Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam.
India is the only Asian country with which Japan does not have the legacy of troubled or brutal historical relationship; thus it is the Ideal partner of Japan. The main objective, of course, is to encircle China in the similar fashion as NATO is encircling Russia now.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rise to power in India draws many parallels to the ascent of President Donald Trump in the USA. Both have used ultra nationalist fervour (Hindu nationalism in India and White nationalism in the USA) to capture state power. Both promised to drive out the political elite. They also like to engage with dissatisfied voters through social media and both also want to make their countries great again. In the similar vein, Prime Minister Abe also wants to make Japan great again militarily and wants to go back to the old days of Japanese militarism. No wonder a lot of hugging as well as very cheerful bonhomie goes on amongst these three leaders. Abe, on return from India, is now planning to go for an election very soon to further consolidate his position to carry out his militarisation programme.
A question has always been there: how can Modi deliver his election campaign promises? Abe's visit came handy to show something is happening on that front. The highlight of the Japanese PM's visit was to initiate the building of 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail Project that is set for 2023 rollout. Modi is also trying to project India as a destination for Japanese investment to use the very cheap labour (from the economic point of view this cheap labour can turn out to be very expensive labour). This has been the case always in India and why Japan has not so far taken advantage of that remains a real mystery. Modi's master plan for making India a power house of manufacturing (an integral part of his making India great again like that of Trump) in the world is based on this cheap labour hypothesis. One must not forget that India has been and still is a major country with very high levels of manufacturing output. But most the output is basic manufacturing and is produced using large amount of labour. Of course, more people a nation has, larger will be its labour-intensive manufacturing output -and India has 1.3 billion people.
Prime Minister Modi accompanied the visiting guest and Mrs Abe (both attired in Indian dress) to visit Sabarmati Ashram which was home to Gandhi from 1917-1930 and there the trio posed for a photoshoot. But the most bizarre visit took place when Modi himself took the visiting guests on a tour of Ahmedabad's famous Sidi Saiyyed Mosque. He already internalised the information and himself served as the tour guide for the guests to the Mosque. Modi's political career started with Hindu supremacist organisation RSS. The RSS interpretation of Indian history generates unremitting hatred against Muslims so much so that while he was Chief Minister of Gujrat, in 2002, he was instrumental in cold blood massacre of hundreds of Muslims there. He has blood on his hand. Modi never visited the Mosque during his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujrat (2002-14).
He and his supporters do not entertain any opposition to their ideas inspired by Hindutva. Very recently the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a prominent journalist and critic of Narendra Modi's government, was met with euphoria by his cyber army (online supporters) known as ModiMob. Any one expressing ideas not acceptable to Modi's militant Hindu nationalist supporters faces an inquisition. The student arm of the BJP is now on a rampage across Indian university campuses to eliminate any open debate that challenges their version politics and history. Modi's victory in 2014 has emboldened the Hindutva ideologues to launch a full-fledged attack on independent-minded scholars and writers. Their language is far more crude and vile than anything that we have seen before.
Most of Abe's first-day visit was political sight-seeing, later Modi hosted a dinner for the guests at 'Agashiye' restaurant know for Kosher Gujrati food. Then Modi and Abe got down to the real business. But at the end of the day it is all about realpolitik. In their joint statement they outlined plan for strengthening Indo-Japanese military-strategic alliance, including staging joint military exercises. The statement made specific mention of the annual Indo-US-Japanese Malabar exercise. They also declared their willingness to further boost their economic ties which, in terms of trade flows, show stagnation to decline in recent times.
India invited Japan to build infrastructure in India's North-East bordering China. Both Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly supported India's eastward move policy as part of their attempt to involve India evermore deeply into the South China Sea conflict. India, smarting from withdrawal of troops from Doklam/Donglang, needed an expeditious, face-saving way out very badly by doling out belligerent posturing for public consumption and Abe's visit came in handy. No wonder, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said no "third party'' should "meddle in the dispute between China and India over territorial sovereignty in any form''. A Chinese academic expert on Indian affairs even suggested that Japan was using India as a tool to confront China, as Japan does not really want to confront it directly. He further took a swipe at India, saying that though India is endeavouring to build expressways and bullet trains, the roads in large parts of India are akin to dirt tracks.
India crossed into the Chinese-controlled area in Doklam/Donlangto which it has no claim with the sole purpose to change the status quo into its own favour. More importantly, the Chinese ambassador to India informed beforehand about the road building in Doklam/Dongland area. Yet, India claimed that it came to Bhutan's defence but Thimphu sources clearly indicated Bhutan did not seek India's help and its Friendship Treaty with India is not a defence treaty. This Indian military incursion into the Chinese territory was also clearly designed to prevent the pro-Beijing party winning the election to be held next year in Bhutan. However, according to the Indian Express, Abe "complimented'' Modi for "standing his ground'' during the Doklam/Donglang crisis.
Modi is now confronted with a faltering economy further aggravated by his demonetisation, armed conflicts in Kashmir, and North East India and retreat from Doklam/Donlang. Vast majority of Indians, who live without toilet, electricity and clean water, now need a "make belief'' escape route which is provided by the jingoistic press afflicted with collective delusion and Modi's online supporters (ModiMob) that troll the social media supporting his cause. They saw victory in retreat from Doklam/Donglang. Modi is mired in deep hostility towards many of India's neighbours. Most of the smaller neighbours view India as a nasty big bully. India's army chief further added to the drama and declared that the army is fully ready to fight on two fronts with Pakistan and China. Such a comment clearly indicates the Indian army chief is struggling to grasp the limits of Indian military power. During the recent BRICS meeting President Xi reiterated to Prime Minister Modi the need for peaceful coexistence and non-aggression; but that does not seem to have sunk into the latter's head by looking at his General's outlandish remark.
Modi's embrace of the USA to work as a proxy in regional conflict may cause Indian army's nose bloodied if it ever tries to take on the Chinese army, let alone fighting on two fronts. His reliance on the US and its client state Japan to come to its aid in times of need is likely to be a wet dream which will turn into a nightmare. More ominously, the Indo-Japanese alliance, as outlined by Modi and Abe, will encourage the US to pursue a more reckless offensive against China and encourage a resurgence of Japanese militarism with disastrous consequences.
The writer is an independent economic and political analyst.