At a time when Modi 2.0 has ticked all checkboxes in providing vaccine aid to India’s neighbours, the Centre has ratcheted up a mega plan for a strategic partnership with Japan in poll-bound Assam.
Ahead of the state Assembly elections, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will be taking a Japanese delegation headed by their Ambassador to India, Kenji Hiramatsu, to the northeastern state on February 14, a move seen as fillip to NDA’s Look East policy.
Official sources in MEA confirmed to IANS that Jaishankar and a Japanese delegation will physically review some of the Japanese-aided projects that are under construction in Assam. The Sarbananda Sonowal government in Assam has already acquired 2,000 bighas of land in Nagarbera for an upcoming Japanese Industrial Township.
“India is setting up the 13th Japanese industrial township in Assam. The purpose is aimed at helping more domestic manufacturing with help of Japan in this border state. It will bring huge employment and tech knowhow. We have had such partnerships with Japan, Israel and the US time to time,” a senior MEA official said.
The project is being looked after by the Japan External Trade Organisation. It is like to have a host of plug and play companies in coordination with government.
The Japanese Embassy did not comment on about the visit considering the memorandum of understanding confidentiality.
Sources said the delegation may also include representatives of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – Japan government’s agency which provides aid for economic and social growth in developing countries and promotes international cooperation.
Jaishankar, sources said, may also sign a new Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) with Japan for skills training and recruitment of youth in Assam, which is likely to go to assembly elections in April.
Five years ago, the BJP wrested power from the Congress, which had ruled the state for 15 years since 2001. The election battle in Assam this time, has turned quite fierce ever since the Congress-led UPA formed a grand alliance with Maulana Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF).
The BJP-led alliance headed by Sarbananda Sonowal is facing stiff opposition from the AIUDF which had won 13 seats and the Congress which got 26 out of the 126 assembly seats in the 2016 state polls. The political rhetoric in Assam focuses on religious and ethnic identities because of illegal migrants from Bangladesh and its sensitive demographics.
As per the 2011 census, 61.5 per cent people in Assam were Hindus and 34.22 per cent Muslims. Out of 32 districts, 11 are Muslim majority in Assam. The Hindu demographics is further divided along ethnicities – Bodo, Bengalis and others. With massive influx of migrants from Bangladesh, the population of Assam’s indigenous communities, has been on a downward curve.
Apart from the debate on demographics, Assam’s concerns have remained high rate of unemployment due to poor infrastructure and inadequate connectivity. Incidentally, Japan’s bilateral relationship with India, which strengthened under former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has benefitted Assam in the last few years.
A spokesperson of Japanese Embassy in New Delhi told IANS that Japan has assisted several infrastructure development plans which include the Dhubri-Phulbari bridge, Guwahati Sewerage project, Guwahati water supply project and construction of vocational training center for poor women in Kamrup.
Japan was the fourth largest investor for India in 2019. Currently, about 1,454 Japanese companies have branches in India. “At recent summit meetings, India and Japan reconfirmed the commitment to synergising India’s demographic dividend and Japan’s capital and technology to realise the true potential of the Japan-India economic partnership for a prosperous future,” as per an official statement of the Japanese government.
Abe’s successor, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga who got a landslide victory in party leadership election on September 14, is pursuing the same vision for Japan-India strategic partnership. Sources said Jaishankar, who was a career diplomat before he joined politics, shares a very good rapport with the Japanese government, due to which he was able to bring in a lot of investment for Assam.