It's an early Diwali for Ahmedabad with several parts of the city lit up and decorated with Indian and Japanese flags, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
and his wife Akie Abe on Wednesday.
PM Modi welcomed Abe through a tweet while sharing pictures of an illuminated Sabarmati riverfront. Ahmedabad's pot-holed roads are also getting the last moment makeover on routes through which the Japanese PM's cavalcade is scheduled to pass. Hoardings and cut-outs welcoming both the Indian and Japanese Prime Ministers to 'India's first World Heritage City' have covered Ahmedabad's roads.
The excitement around Ashram Road and the Sabarmati Riverfront Road
is palpable as the stretch is being cordoned off as a high-security zone with troops of cops descending on this busy business district of Ahmedabad. Security is going to be tight and movement of people restricted as over 9,000 policemen are being deployed across the twin cities.
Buddhist monks have gathered at the city airport to greet Prime Minister Abe
who is on a two-day trip to Gujarat
to lay the foundation stone for India's first high-speed rail project - popularly called the Bullet train - between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.
The Rs 1.1 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project that will have 10 cars and a capacity to accommodate 750 people will see the light of the day by 2022. Recently, minister of railways Piyush Goyal has said that the deadline of December 2023 for the Bullet Train that is going to significantly cut down on travel time between the two cities (from eight to three hours) may be brought forward to August 2022 to coincide with India's 75th year of Independence.
Of the 508-km stretch, 468 km (92 per cent) of the route will be elevated, 27 km (6 per cent) in the tunnel and the remaining 13 km (2 per cent) will be on the ground. The bullet train will also pass through the country's longest tunnel of 21 km, of which 7 km will be under the sea.
The fares for the Bullet train would be in the range of Rs 3,000 to 5,000 for a ticket. Local businessman Rohit Shah, who travels to Mumbai regularly for his work, felt that this is more than the flight ticket cost which can be as low as Rs 1,500 for a one-way trip provided one books early. "Flight takes around 45 minutes, this we hear would take around three hours. Not sure how lucrative this would be for passengers," he said.
Japan is funding the project through a soft loan of Rs 88,000 crore and the BJP government's ambitious project is likely to be scaled up soon after commissioning to accommodate 1200 people in 16 cars.
Abe, a close friend of Modi since his chief minister days in Gujarat, will attend the 12th Indo-Japan Annual Summit Meeting in Gandhinagar following the foundation stone laying ceremony on Thursday morning.
Several MoUs are expected to be signed, significant being four Japanese corporate giants signing investment proposals worth Rs 1 lakh crore each. In all around 15 MoUs are likely to be signed and the total investment amount including SME investments and the Bullet train is expected to cross Rs 5 lakh crore.
Japan-India bilateral relationship has been growing steadily in the past few years. Post the Doklam stand-off with China, India-Japan partnership is likely to emerge as the cornerstone for South Asian diplomacy.
Diplomatic discussions apart, Modi is going to personally escort the Japanese Premier to the Sabarmati Ashram where they will attend the afternoon prayers. Sidi Saiyed Mosque, situated nearby in Lal Darwaza area of the old city that would be the next stop for the duo.
Ahmedabad has recently made it to the Unesco World Heritage City and the Sidi Saiyed monument known for its stone work is often considered the mascot of the city.
As Modi and Abe are set to lead a 9-km rally from the airport to Sabarmati Ashram, thousands are expected to line to welcome the VVIP cavalcade. Around 28 stages have been erected every few hundred metres which will showcase scores of children singing and dance to India's varied cultures.
From the Gujarati Thali to Japanese sushi, Abe's Gujarat
visit is going to be marked with culinary delights from across both parts of the world. Modi and Abe will be bonding over dinner at city's heritage hotel Agashiye or House of MG, which is bang opposite the Sidi Mosque.
All is, however, not going as planned. The Patidar agitation seems to have flared up in South Gujarat
right ahead of Abe's visit. Two civic transport buses were set on fire by protesters in a Patidar dominated area of Surat Tuesday night. The incident happened after police detained some people who were staging a protest at Saurashtra Bhavan against a BJP programme. However, the protests were scuttled swiftly by prompt police action.