The laying of the foundation stone of the Rs 1.08 lakh crore ($17 billion) Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, based on Japan’s Shinkansen technology, is a landmark moment in the long history of India-Japan friendship spanning decades. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his speech at the foundation stone laying ceremony in Ahmedabad on Thursday, the bullet train is “in a way a project being constructed for free”, with Japan providing India with a financial assistance of Rs 88,000 crore at a mere 0.1% interest, to be repaid in 50 years. Even the repayment will start after 15 years from now. These are immensely lenient terms that will go a long way in strengthening India-Japan relations further. The train is expected to bring major economic development to the corridor through which it passes, with the Prime Minister promising that the area between the two cities will be converted into a single economic zone. The government must ensure the rapid implementation of the project, with strict adherence to deadline. It is imperative to escape the trap of the bureaucratic red tape, which has a rather dubious history of sabotaging the very best of intentions by an unmatched display of lethargy.
The bullet train is but just one area of India-Japan relations. From defence partnership to cooperation in business, science, technology, urban development, and plans to develop an Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, the countries have got covered a vast area of mutual interests between the two of them. India-Japan relations have got a major boost, especially under Prime Minister Modi’s Act East policy. Japan too has been reciprocating PM Modi’s overtures in a very big way, with the Japanese investing $4.7 billion in India in 2016-17—80% higher than in 2015-2016.
Indians have taken note with gratitude that Japan was the only country to support India openly during the trouble in Doklam. Similarly, the Japanese too have appreciated Indian condemnation of North Korea’s act of threatening the Japanese islands with annihilation almost daily.
In this context, mention must be made of how the Japanese have considered India to be a friend sympathetic to their trials and tribulations right from the time of the Second World War. Not many in India may know that Tokyo has a monument dedicated to an Indian judge, Justice Radhabinod Pal, who gave a dissenting judgement in the Tokyo trials—equivalent to the Nuremberg trials—held by the Allied forces to try the Japanese participants in the war. Justice Pal refused to endorse the hypocrisy of the exercise, where while Japan was rightly tried for wartime atrocities, but not the United States, which committed the grave war crime of obliterating the two Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing and maiming for life millions of residents and even future generations. Japan’s link to Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose is well known. Both Swami Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore enhanced their own beliefs and philosophies through their interactions with Japanese philosophers and thinkers. Numerous such similar exchanges have been taking place between the two robust democracies of India and Japan over the years.
This was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fourth visit to India as the head of his government. When he first visited India as PM ten years ago in 2007, he quoted from a 1655 book by Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, Confluence of the Two Seas, to say, “We are now at a point at which the Confluence of the Two Seas is coming into being. The Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form. Our two countries have the ability—and the responsibility—to ensure that it broadens yet further and to nurture and enrich these seas to become seas of clearest transparence.” During his latest visit, PM Abe said, “India is tremendously special to Japan.” So is Japan to India.