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Along a walking path that takes you to a medieval shrine in the Japanese garden behind the Chinzanso Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo is an impressive stone sculpture of a three-headed god with six arms. I was not able to establish if this was a rendering of Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara,but anyone who knows Japans ancient history would not rule it out. Both India and Japan must avoid the temptation and the trap of viewing their bilateral relationship merely from the contemporary prism of the world we live in now,and remind themselves that their relationship is based on the firm foundations of an ancient civilisational link.
One would imagine that this is the message that the emperor and empress of Japan would want to convey to their Indian hosts on the first ever official visit to India of a Japanese monarch. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have been to India before,in 1960,but as prince and princess on a honeymoon,at a time when neither country was looking at the other as a strategic partner. In the winter of their reign,the two arrive in Delhi to signal the beginning of a new phase in the bilateral relationship. It is significant that the visit of the emperor and empress will be followed by that of Japans charismatic leader,Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Taken together these visits to India,following Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to Japan earlier this year,will mark the beginning of a new era in India-Japan relations. Why do I say this?
Despite the ancient civilisational relationship between the two countries and the fact that Japan played an inspirational role in Indias own national movement,drawing to its shores a great Indian philosopher and religious leader,Swami Vivekananda,a great Indian poet,Rabindranath Tagore,a great Indian engineer,Mokshagundam Vishweswarayya and offering protection and support to a great Indian freedom fighter and soldier,Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose,postwar Japans incipient engagement with an industrialising India,in the 1980s,was nipped in the bud by its decision to focus on China. During the 1990s,when India opened up to foreign investment,Japan was so mesmerised by the China opportunity that it chose to yield market space across a wide swathe of industries to South Korean competitors.
The 1990s was not just Japans wasted decade,it was also a wasted decade for the India-Japan relationship. Little wonder then that when India chose to conduct nuclear tests in the summer of 1998,Japan was quick to impose sanctions,while South Korea made a point of taking no such action,in the face of considerable pressure from the United States.
In December 1998,I was invited to be the youngest member of a high-powered Indian delegation that travelled to Tokyo to urge Japan to end the regime of sanctions. Led by the late J.N. Dixit,a former foreign secretary and later national security advisor,the team included the late Jasjit Singh,then director-general of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses,a former Indian ambassador to Japan,Arjun Asrani and N.N. Vohra,now governor of Jammu and Kashmir and at the time,director continued…