India to observe one day of national mourning for Japan's ex-PM Shinzo Abe

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (right) shared a warm friendship with former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India will observe a day of national mourning on Saturday (July 9) for former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who died in a shooting attack on Friday.

The move reflects India's high regard for the late premier, who guided India-Japan relations to new heights during his tenure.

Mr Abe was feted in India for deepening bilateral ties and recognising the important role New Delhi plays in the Indo-Pacific region, even before the Quad security forum regained prominence on the international stage of diplomacy in recent years.

The Quad is an informal strategic grouping comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States. Initially shelved after Chinese censure, the forum has been revived of late and has gained momentum amid mutual concerns over the rapid rise of China.

"Mr Abe made an immense contribution to elevating India-Japan relations to the level of a Special Strategic and Global Partnership," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Friday evening following news of the politician's passing.

"Today, whole India mourns with Japan and we stand in solidarity with our Japanese brothers and sisters in this difficult moment."

Mr Modi added that Saturday would be observed as a day of national mourning in India.

Another tweet by the Indian leader on Friday read: "Sharing a picture from my most recent meeting with my dear friend Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. Always passionate about strengthening India-Japan ties, he had just taken over as the chairman of the Japan-India Association."

The two leaders last met on May 24 during a trip to Japan for the Quad leaders' summit.

Mr Modi, who has often referred to Mr Abe as his "dear friend", shared a warm friendship with the Japanese leader.

They first became acquainted when Mr Modi was chief minister of Gujarat.

When he became prime minister in 2014, Mr Modi's first visit outside of South Asia was to Japan.

On Friday, political leaders across party lines expressed sorrow over Mr Abe's passing and the shooting, which was the top news on most Indian media outlets.

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party tweeted: "Deeply saddened by the demise of former PM of Japan, Shinzo Abe. His role in strengthening the strategic relationship between India & Japan was commendable. He leaves behind a lasting legacy in the Indo-Pacific."

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted that it was a personal loss for him as well: "A sad day for Japan, for India, the world, and for me personally. A quarter-century of memories of Shinzo Abe. No words to express them."

Among Mr Abe's pet projects was a collaboration with Japan to set up India's first bullet train. The project, which has been repeatedly delayed due to land acquisition problems, could not be realised during Mr Abe's term.

Mr Abe was lauded in India for his farsightedness in identifying early on in his premiership the importance of India as a counterbalance amid the challenges of a rising and increasingly aggressive China.

He was also seen as a key driver of the Quad.

In a 2007 speech to the Indian Parliament during a visit to the country, Mr Abe highlighted the importance of democracies banding together.

He spoke of India and Japan coming together for a "broader Asia" that would "evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia".

Such a network would "allow people, goods, capital and knowledge to flow freely", he noted.

An artist applies finishing touches to a painting of Mr Abe as part of a tribute to him outside an art school in Mumbai on July 8, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Abe also played a significant role in diplomacy with India, said Indian foreign policy analysts.

Professor Harsh V. Pant, head of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, said: "He will be remembered as someone who brought India to the centre stage of contemporary geopolitics with this articulation of the Indo-Pacific concept.

"In some ways, Mr Abe, as a true friend, pushed India into being a much more ambitious country. His role goes much beyond just being a very good friend of India and being a very good partner of India in terms of building the Japanese-Indian bilateral relationship.

"His role goes to the heart of what we are witnessing in the Indo-Pacific: the construction of this concept into something more concrete in the evolution of the Quad."

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