Fifty years ago, Nobusuke Kishi was the first Japanese Prime Minister to visit India. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru introduced him at a grand civic reception as “the Prime Minister of Japan, a country I hold in great esteem”.
Kishi went home to tell this tale to his grandson, touched by the experience for he was then the leader of a nation defeated in World War II.
The grandson recalled this episode in his address to Parliament on Wednesday. And the heartwarming story drew visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe loud cheers from his audience.
“As the leader of a defeated nation, he (Kishi) must have been delighted,” Abe said in his 20-minute speech to the joint session, attended by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and several Parliamentarians and diplomats.
Abe noted that India was the first country to accept Overseas Development Assistance from war-torn Japan, which wanted to provide it as a matter of honour. “My grandfather never forgot that fact either.”
Abe told the MPs he wanted to revise his country’s pacifist constitution and had backed a law requiring the teaching of patriotism in schools. He also said he would stop by Kolkata on Thursday to meet Prashanta Pal, who had dissented from the post-World War II Tokyo tribunal that convicted Japanese war criminals.
Abe fondly remembered the four elephants that came as a gift from India — the first donated by Nehru and named after his daughter Indira and the last being Surya. “Surya arrived in May 2001, just as Japan was struggling to wrest itself from a grinding recession. Surya was our reminder that the sun would rise again,” he said.
Abe said he was happy an increasing number of Indians were learning Japanese and announced that 500 Indians would be welcomed to Japan every year, of whom 100 would be those studying or teaching Japanese.
In his speech titled ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’, which incidentally is the title of a book by Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, Abe quoted extensively from the writings of Vivekananda. He also recalled Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore who were engaged at the “deepest level” of their soul with their Japanese contemporaries.
Abe is the first foreign leader to address Parliament since Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2000 and former US president Bill Clinton seven months before him.