AHMEDABAD: A resplendent roadshow, garba dance, vegetarian delicacies, Buddhist monks, and chants of Khem Chho….In a series of unprecedented gestures, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi literally rolled out the red carpet for his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, as the latter touched down in Ahmedabad on a two-day visit.
On the Road…
In a departure from protocol, Mr Modi personally received his honoured Japanese guest at Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel International airport in Ahmedabad. As both leaders walked the red carpet they were greeted by folk artists along the way dancing to popular Gujarati beats and a group of Buddhist monks who presented Abe and First Lady Akie Abe a white scarf. Both leaders then travelled from the airport to Sabarmati Ashram in a colourful roadshow, stretching over eight kilometres.
The spectacular welcome for Mr Aabe imparted a new resonance to India’s age-old tradition of treating a guest as God: “Atithi Devo Bhava.”
As both leaders walked the red carpet they were greeted by folk artistes along the way, dancing to popular Gujarati beats and a group of Buddhist monks who presented Abe and his wife a white scarf. Perhaps nobody expected to see Abe and his wife change into traditional Indian clothes as they got on the open roof Toyota jeep for the roadshow. Abe looked winsome a white kurta and blue Nehru jacket, while his wife Aki Abe wore a printed salwar kameej.
The city of Ahmedabad wore a festive look as onlookers thronged along the entire stretch of the road through which the cavalcade made its way to the Sabarmati Ashram. Every roundabout had troops of dancers performing and school children cheering the leaders. Both the leaders smiled and waved at the crowd all along and Akie Abe was seen frenziedly capturing the rapturous welcome event in her i-pad. Cheers of Jai Hind, Vande Mataram, and “Modi-Modi” filled the air. Little flags of India and Japan were seen fluttering in the crowd as they passed.
This time round, Abe will not travel to Delhi, but Mr Modi has ensured that the Japanese leader got a glimpse of dazzling cultural diversity of India through colourful regional dance performances like Gujarat’s Kutchhi and Garba, Jharkhand’s Paika, a martial arts dance form, Mizoram’s Bamboo dance, West Bengal’s Puralia Chau, Nagaland’s Naga dance and Sikkim’s snow lion dance. Around 1,800 students from Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation-run schools and private schools lined up the road, waving and cheering. Twelve giant stages and 18 small stages have been set up where performances are expected to carry on till the evening.
More than 600 welcome messages in both English and Japanese and 100,000 flags have been splashed across the city, making it a royal welcome for Mr Abe. And that is not all. Other performances like Yoga and a musical concert of Dhol, Nagada, Shehnai, Manjira, Shankhnaad, Ghantanaad have also been planned. These riveting moments will be captured in about 100 cameras out of which 40 are for the road show alone. India’s national broadcaster Doordarshan has deployed more than 300 personnel to cover the visit for two days.
A special song ‘Kem chho, konnichiwa’, written in Gujarati and Japanese, will be sung as Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe visits the Indo-Japan Friendship Association (IJFA)-Gujarat on September 14.
“These special gestures are designed to underscore the importance India attaches to developing a multi-dimensional relationship with Japan and the pivotal role Japan will play in India’s transformation, specially in areas of infrastructure and technology,” said Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network and India and World magazine.
Veggie delights & tete-e-tete
Gujarat is famous for its vegetarian cuisine. Beside the regular khichdi kari, the Japanese premier and his wife will be treated with handvo (a vegetarian baked cake), a favourite delicacy of PM Modi.
Apart from the iconic Sabarmati Ashram, one the home of Mahatma Gandhi, the two leaders will also be visiting the Sidi Sayyaid ki Jaali, a 16th century mosque.
The Japanese delegation will be hosted at the Heritage Hotel of Agashe (meaning terrace) part of the House of Mangaldas and a dinner has been arranged in the famous roof top Agashiye restaurant. A post-dinner walk by Modi and Abe over the 100-year-old Ellis Bridge is set to be an enduring photo op moment, and what the two leaders talk look set to infuse a fresh burst of energy in India-Japan relationship.
The high moment of Mr Abe’s two-day visit will be the stone-laying ceremony for India’s first bullet train. Mr Modi and Mr Abe will lay the foundation stone for India’s first bullet train project at Sabarmati Football Ground, which will reduce the journey from Ahmadabad to Mumbai to less than three hours.
Ahmadabad has been declared as India’s first world Heritage City; and Mr Abe’s visit is just the perfect opportunity to display Modi’s hometown in all its glory. The cultural connect and the warm personal moments shared between the two leaders will send out a strong message about the tightening embrace between Asia’s two leading democracies.
(With inputs from Pritha Mahanti)
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