Appointed recently by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as Special Envoy to Japan, Ashwani Kumar, Member of Parliament, speaks to The Hindu about his plan to build on the momentum that India-Japan ties have gathered on the political and economic fronts. Excerpts.
What is your mandate as Special Envoy?
The mandate given to me is to continue and reinforce at the highest levels the engagement between India and Japan. The idea is to send a special signal to Japan that India attaches great value and significance to this relationship especially in light of the forthcoming visit of the Imperial Majesties to India and my meeting in Japan this week with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister along with the CEOs of leading Japanese companies.
How did the $50 billion currency swap between India and Japan announced at the recent G20 summit by Dr. Singh and Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso come about?
The world knows, and so do we, that Japan has huge capital and technological resources. It has throughout the last several years been very generous in terms of lending funds. Considering the state of our economy and the challenges we are facing, raising the swap arrangement from $15 billion to $50 billion has had an immediate positive impact on the rupee. I think that this one particular gesture by Japan in itself reflects the warmth and importance that it attaches to this relationship.
As America plans to roll back its quantitative easing measures, do you think Japan could offer a counter-balance by injecting more liquidity into the global economy, which it is doing now? This is also helping India. Is it planned or just a coincidence?
The fact remains that the Japanese also realise that after China, India is the single largest market in this region. I believe it is Japan's conscious policy to diversify its global economic engagement without necessarily sending a negative signal to China but in order to spread its risk wider. India figures prominently in this strategy.
And, 926 Japanese companies operate today in India but in contrast there are 10,000 Japanese companies in China. There is a difference of 1:10 in terms of the level of economic engagement. The Indian market is second to none. In fact, in certain terms of purchasing power the Indian market is even stronger than China’s. Japan would like India to become a large and important investment destination for Japanese companies.
Is the higher level engagement with Japan also part of the Indian strategy of hedging away from its West-centric economic and political engagement?
Our engagement with Japan is not limited to strong economic ties. It now encompasses defence cooperation. The coming together of India and Japan and our support recently to Japan’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games is an indicator of a very positive and significant development in the consolidation of a global institutional partnership between the two nations.
Will the Japanese CEOs there be committing more capital at a time when India needs it for developing its infrastructure sector?
Japan has both the technological and human resources to help us build our infrastructure. No country in the world in my view has today greater competitive advantage than Japan. To start with, we need to reinvigorate the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the dedicated freight corridor. These are flagship projects involving lakhs of crores of investment. We need to address the hitches pointed out by the Japanese side in the execution of these projects.
Coming now to the circumstance in which you quit as the Law and Justice Minister, how did Dr. Singh choose you for this new assignment?
The new assignment has nothing to do with my resignation from the Cabinet. My resignation was on account of the fact that the Opposition had stalled Parliament and I thought that in order to avoid any unnecessary controversy, for that, it would be better for me to resign to allow Parliament to function. That was the only reason for me to quit. As part of duties of the Law Minister, it was my function to advise any wing of the government on any important matter before the Court. In its affidavit filed before the Supreme Court, the CBI has placed on record the suggestions received during discussions in my office where the Attorney General, the Additional Solicitor General and other officers were present. No changes of any kind had been made to the CBI investigations into Coalgate. The central theme of investigation remains unaffected. There were minor changes that were also mentioned in the CBI affidavit.
Do you think the Supreme Court was convinced that no substantial changes were made?
The Supreme Court will decide what it has to decide. But I can tell you the apex court has not said a single word against me in its written order. It is well settled that the courts speak through their orders and not through their observations.
So you are suggesting the Supreme Court has said nothing against you?
I was never charged. There was no accusation against me in the court. I mean, I am not [on trial] before the Court. Somebody said that this particular consultation should not have taken place. I am saying that under the projection of business of transaction rules of the government, the CBI can go only to the Law Ministry for advice as long as the advice does not materially and adversely affect the investigation, something the CBI had told the Court has not happened.
Do you think that the Attorney General in some sense could have avoided saying that he had not read the report at that time?
The least said the better. Let my silence speak for myself.