Ahmedabad: It was soft diplomacy with an unusual twist.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sported a blue khaadi sleeveless jacket, a cream-coloured kurta and white pyjamas (long tunic and trousers) and accompanied his host, Indian PM Narendra Modi, on a roadshow that showcased the culture of Indian states.
This was Abe’s first engagement after arriving in Ahmedabad, a day ahead of the 12th Indo-Japan annual summit.
Abe’s wife Akie Abe, who stepped off the aircraft in a business jacket and skirt, also changed into a red salwar kameez for the road show. The Abes and Modi then stepped onto an open jeep decorated with garlands to drive 8.5km through Ahmedabad to the Sabarmati Ashram, the home of India’s freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi.
To be sure, Abe is not the first foreign leader to be received outside of the national capital New Delhi. Neither is he the first to be shown around Sabarmati Ashram by Modi. In September 2014, Modi had hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad and took him around the Sabarmati Ashram before accompanying Xi for a short walk along the Sabarmati river and a dinner along the riverfront.
But a roadshow showcasing the culture of Indian states was certainly a first.
During the visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, Modi and Abe garlanded a picture of Mahatma Gandhi. The host then showed Abe around Gandhi’s personal quarters.
In the last six months, this would be the third roadshow by Modi in his home state, which is scheduled to go to the polls in December. His earlier roadshows were in Surat and Rajkot cities.
The PM’s visit to his home state twice in the month of September—he is scheduled to visit again on his birthday on 17 September to dedicate the Narmada dam project to the nation—will set the tone for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Gujarat election campaign.
Modi’s visits to Gujarat, a state whose successful development model was the main plank of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, are expected to galvanise the party, which is still smarting from a recent high-stakes Rajya Sabha election loss to the Congress. The party has kept an ambitious target of winning over 150 (out of 182) seats in the state assembly elections.
On his current visit to Gujarat, Modi will announce a string of development projects with Abe, including a bullet train link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad and an industrial park near Sanand. A series of memoranda of understanding worth billions of dollars in investment are expected to be signed between the two countries.