Resilience & National Spirit
Eyeing a $5 trillion economy, India can take inspiration from Japan’s spirit of collectivism
Our delegation for 11th India-Japan Joint Working Group Meeting on Urban Development reached Japan on 15th October, just 3 days after super typhoon Hagibis, one of the most powerful in the last six decades, hit Japan and claimed 74 lives. We were astonished by the warmth with which the delegation was greeted by Japanese counterparts. Quite remarkably, the travel itinerary and official engagements over 5 days visit remained unchanged and was executed by our hosts as planned. Further, we were overwhelmed by the preparations for the visit of around 2,000 dignitaries from around 200 countries for the coronation ceremony of Emperor Naruhito of Japan the week after, which was unwavering in front of the wrath of super typhoon Hagibis. We visited Roppongi Grand Tower, a 231-metre tall building in the heart of Tokyo, developed by Sumitomo Realty & Development Company. On our enquiry as to whether the super typhoon had any impact on the Grand Tower, the CEO seemed as unmoved as the gleaming skyscraper, standing out in the Roppongi skyline.
Japan is not new to disasters, the most devastating being Great Hanshin earthquake 1995, the Great East Japan earthquake 2011 and the tsunami which triggered the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Over the course of time, Japan's national spirit has been synonymous with utmost resilience, reinforced by Japan's ability to handle natural disasters in a well prepared and timely manner. Japan's political and economic commitment to disaster risk reduction and resilience has been a leading example for the whole world to see.
In India as well, natural disasters are a common phenomenon. Cyclone Fani wreaked havoc in Odisha. The preparedness of disaster management authorities was well appreciated across the world, when the coastal authorities in Odisha moved more than a million people from the area within cyclone Fani's projected path onto higher ground, significantly reducing the death toll to 89. India's preparedness for natural disasters has increased a lot in recent times but there is still a long way to emulate the Japanese spirit.
During the visit to Tokyo Tower, we saw a movie depicting the series of events in World War II, culminating in atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 when the whole nation came to a standstill. The movie recounted the carpet bombing of Tokyo when the entire city was ravaged by a series of firebomb assaults, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians dead and over 1 million homeless. Significant city monuments like Tokyo station were also destroyed. In the 1950s, Japan, still ravaged by the war, aimed to become modern, peaceful and part of the world's economic elite. One of the key elements in the construction of this renewed Japanese society was the building of a monument to symbolise Japan's ascendancy as a global economic powerhouse. This led to the planning of Tokyo Tower by Hisakichi Maeda, to be taller than the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower, among the tallest structures in the world. The building of Tokyo Tower attracted thousands of Japanese construction workers and instilled a greater sense of nationalism in the hearts of Japanese people at a time when it was needed the most. Tokyo Tower glorified their engineering and technical prowess and showed the world that it was way ahead of its time. By the end of 1958, the Tokyo Tower was finished and presented to the public as the world's tallest freestanding tower at the time, taller than Eiffel Tower. During the same period, the Japanese economy resurged and the tower signified the post-war recovery phase and the Japanese spirit.
In 1964, Japan became the centre of attention for the world when they hosted the Tokyo Olympics with immense aplomb and success, announcing their comeback to the global stage. It was a massive undertaking at the national level, with some estimates suggesting that Tokyo spent the equivalent of its national budget at that time on a major integrated development program which transformed the city's infrastructure. Simultaneously, completion of many large-scale infrastructure projects was timed to coincide with the 1964 Olympics, including the launch of the globally famous Shinkansen bullet train. Tokyo Station was rebuilt as a heritage building by innovative selling of air rights to enable an integrated development of the entire area. The collective effort of the entire nation driving the resurgence of the nation's economy is what impressed us the most.
India too has a rich history and culture. Over the course of colonial rule, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, popularly remembered as Iron Man of India, successfully imbibed the spirit of solidarity within the citizens of the country. To realise his vision, 'Statue of Unity' was unveiled as the world's tallest statue in 2018, taller than the Statue of Liberty. Many people initially expressed discontent at the expenditure on the statue being exorbitantly high. Lately, the monument has witnessed high tourist footfalls, making it one of the most visited destinations across the country. Like Tokyo Tower of Japan, the 'Statue of Unity' of India will serve as a symbol to imbibe a sense of national purpose in hearts of 130 crore Indians, immensely essential to embark on building a strong, prosperous and inclusive India and to ensure that the fruits of development reach the bottom of the pyramid.
India is working towards the holistic achievement of global sustainable development goals, taking unprecedented leaps under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Running the world's biggest health assurance scheme covering 500 million citizens, world's biggest financial inclusion scheme opening over 370 million bank accounts for the poor, India draws inspiration from "Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas". The efforts are ours but their fruits are for all of humanity. In 2014, India was lagging behind in sanitation and an Open Defecation Free (ODF) India seemed a far-fetched dream, with less than 50 per cent of households in the country having access to sanitation facilities. Yet, India has been able to successfully implement the world's largest sanitation programme under Swachh Bharat Mission, building 110 million toilets in just 5 years, a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary. Swach Bharat Mission has now been turned into a Jan Andolan, catalysed by behavioural transformation led by 130 crore Indians. On one hand, India is committed to achieving the target of 450 GW of renewable energy and on the other hand, India is leading initiatives like International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
India is one of the fastest-growing nations, with an annual average economic growth of 7.5 per cent over the last 5 years, coupled with low inflation and low fiscal deficits. In the last 4 years, India has jumped 79 positions in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) rankings, currently ranked at 63, being the only large country in the world to witness such monumental progress. The jump of 25 places in EoDB in construction permits this year is unprecedented, considering last year's jump was 129 places. Recently, reforms and policy measures in the country have ensured commitment towards a "one nation one belief" approach, charting its way towards realising the vision of a USD 5 trillion dollar economy.
India needs to address the challenge of engaging with modernity and economic development with cultural preservation, learning from Japan. With a focus on modernisation, Japan has always aspired to achieve their development goals through state-led encouragement of a nation-wide and collective effort. Japanese people have always leaned on their own unique culture, despite the global wave of westernisation. Their united effort at improving themselves, focusing on their internal strengths and competencies is commendable. Japanese spirit of embracing challenges with spirit and camaraderie has synergies with Indian ethos. The advanced, precision manufacturing and kaizen quality control principles are leading examples for the rest of the world. Thus, a lot of lessons can be taken from the Japanese national spirit of collectivism and unity. Similarly, our country can realise its vision for equitable growth by incorporating a sense of national pride amongst its citizens through projects of national integration, ensuring that each one of us contributes towards the natural goal of meeting the aspirations of New India.
Durga Shanker Mishra is currently Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA). Views expressed are strictly personal