India loses a close friend with Shinzo Abe’s passing

In a shocking incident in that normally peaceful nation, the former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, was shot twice by an assailant while he was delivering a campaign speech in Nara, in western Japan this morning. Abe, who was taken to hospital in a gravely critical condition, died shortly thereafter, it was officially announced.

The shocking assassination has stunned the country which has among the lowest rates of gun violence in the world. However, the lax security apparatus surrounding the former prime minister indicates a fatal intelligence and security failure. The assailant has been apprehended and, reportedly, confessed to wanting Abe dead.

Speaking before Abe’s death was announced, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, a member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic party, condemned the shooting in the “strongest terms” while the people of Japan and leaders across the world expressed shock at the violence in a country in which political violence is rare and guns are tightly controlled. The only country to have lived through atomic attacks, Japan has since become a deeply pacifist nation, where public acts of violence are extremely rare.

“This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections – the very foundation of our democracy – and is absolutely unforgivable,” said Kishida, in a televised address.

Abe was the longest serving Prime Minister of Japan, serving over two terms, and has been widely credited with personally investing in pushing for much improved ties with India. He visited India on many occasions, even before he became prime minister, and had a vision for Japan and India to become the democratic pillars to power the growth of Asia in the 21st century.

Abe’s maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960, was the first Japanese PM to visit India. In an eerie throwback, Kishi was attacked and survived an assassination attempt in the final days of his tenure.

Delivering a speech to the Indian Parliament in 2007, Abe sought a ‘confluence of oceans’ among the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and first mooted the concept of the Indo-Pacific, before it became accepted as a geopolitical construct. Abe was also the primary initial mover of the concept of the Quad, or Quadrilateral of democracies, which has now been raised to the summit level and has become an important pillar of India’s foreign policy.

India, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with whom he shared a close personal bond, has been deeply shocked and saddened by the Abe’s assassination. National mourning has been declared in India tomorrow (July 9) in solidarity with the people of Japan.

Today, India’s relations with Japan are among the closest possible, with deep geo-strategic and geo-economic linkages. The two countries have raised their ties to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership and plan to make the relationship more robust and complementary in 2022, particularly in view of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations this year. Japan is one of the very few countries with which India has the mechanism of an annual summit, begun during the Abe era, before he resigned his premiership in 2020.

India has been a beneficiary of substantial Japanese infrastructure and development assistance, most visible symbols of which are the Delhi and other urban metropolitan railway systems (subways) and the Delhi-Mumbai development corridor, and have collaborated closely in heavy industry and science and technology. The Maruti-Suzuki automobile is another ubiquitous symbol of that collaboration, which suffered a setback after India tested nuclear weapons in May 1998.

However, Abe was among those who worked to restore linkages with India and, today, India is the largest recipient of Japanese overseas development aid, worth well over $39 billion. An indicator of the trust between the two countries is also apparent in the decision by India to allow Japan to invest in infrastructure and development projects in India’s sensitive North-East. Abe walked the talk on ensuring that projects were implemented and provided the platform on which India’s Act East Policy can bear fruit. In fact, he was scheduled to hold the 2019 summit meeting with Modi in Guwahati in December 2019, but the prolonged agitation across Assam and the Northeast against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019, forced Abe to call off that visit.

Abe’s recognition and advocacy of the deep civilizational linkages between the two countries saw him visit Varanasi, in December 2015, and host Modi at his ancestral home and also in Kyoto, the cultural and ancient capital of Japan. While Abe’s end signals an abrupt end to a visionary legacy, the platform built for Indo-Japan ties has been strongly cemented to last beyond personalities. – INDIA NEWS STREAM

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