It was the afternoon of August 16, 1945. A few eminent citizens of Tokyo assembled at a burnt-out building to chalk out future plans for the revival of their beloved city. One of the experts present, Okita, narrates: “If you looked out of the windows, it looked like a scorched plain. Everybody was starving. But the committee discussing the future worked really hard.”
It was just the day before, August 15, 1945 that the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces had happened. Once a mighty empire, Japan was reduced to a fiefdom of the US. Militarily, it was finished. One-third of the country was destroyed. More than half of the means of economic production had been reduced to rubble. Many millions had been killed in the Allied air raids. World War II had almost finished off the means of survival for Japan.
Yet, what couldn’t be destroyed was the spirit of the Japanese. They thought, “It’s bad now. But with a big effort, Japan will get back on its feet again.” While the country was being smothered by the Allies during the war and the occupational US army under Douglas MacArthur, the eminent experts were busy putting in place their plans for Japan’s revival.
David Pilling calls this Japanese characteristic “Bending Adversity”. In an inspiring book of the same title, Pilling narrates how the Japanese have made it almost a national obsession to work towards bending adversities into opportunities.
Japan is India’s largest and most important trading partner. We exchange goods and technology. But we need to exchange this spirit too. India is a land of great cultural and civilisational institutions. Our family and social institutions are an example to the entire world. Japan is facing serious societal stress. Atomised families and materialist lifestyles are taking their toll. Japan is ageing fast. As Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu told a gathering recently, the toy business is booming in Japan not just because children love toys, but because old people too need them to play with. They have nobody else to turn to in the twilight of their lives. Japan will soon join the club of so-called “evening economies”.
“While Japan can benefit from our value system, we need to imbibe their great work culture — the single-minded, obsessive focus of an entire nation on development. Japan used every opportunity to strengthen its economy and industry. Freed from the burden of its own defence after World War II, Japan cleverly used this to throw all its energy into economic development.”
“Some factories went the other way, from pre-war military production to manufacture of civilian goods. An aircraft factory in Osaka started making nails for houses. Makers of radio parts turned their thoughts to light bulbs. In due course, companies such as Nikon, which had ground lenses for gunships, started producing cameras and binoculars,” writes Pilling. To aptly sum up the post-war mood, Kiyoshi Tomizuka’s diary entry of April 1945, a few months before Japan’s surrender, is the best source. A professor of engineering at Tokyo Imperial University, Kiyoshi wrote: “An army in uniform is not the only sort of army. Scientific technology and fighting spirit under a business suit will be our underground army”.
“Make in India” needs a lot of learning from Japan. In fact, China emulated Japan in areas like industrial production. It focused on capturing markets first and for that, growth, not profit, was made the target. “Growth now and profits later” was the motto in Japan for long.
We are happy to let politics block India’s economic and industrial development. The most important economic reforms, such as the land acquisition bill, GST, etc are held to ransom for petty political gains. Immature leaders scout around, spreading falsehoods about the government and its programmes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces the biggest challenge to his developmental dreams in these political roadblocks. There is no other way but to accelerate an infrastructure boom. Without that, development will not kick-start. Unless we achieve that, job creation is not possible. Every year, we add about 20 million youth to the workforce. Sadly, we have been able to add only about two million new jobs annually. We need to urgently bridge the gap. Without the required reforms, none of this is possible.
It is a challenge for Modi and his team. Can they, like Japan, turn this adversity into an opportunity? The Japanese had used the Korean War to strengthen their manufacturing base for supplying the US army. India can’t look for wars to strengthen its economy. But does it have experts in its Niti Aayog and government who can “bend” the present “political adversity” into an opportunity? That is the big question the nation is awaiting answers to, not the silly ones raised on primetime TV.
The writer is national general secretary, BJP, and director, India Foundation.
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