A Japanese perspective on India

Published : Apr 25, 1998 00:00 IST

Interview with Hiroichi Yamaguchi.

Hiroichi Yamaguchi is Professor of International Relations and Asian Studies at the Faculty of International Studies, Bunkyo University, Japan. Yamaguchi, who trained as a sociologist, is an expert on Japan-Asia relations. He has written extensively on India and is at present a member of the committee on the Japan-India Academic Exchange Programme. His publications include papers on the status of the backward classes in India and an introduction to area studies. The books he has edited include Understanding the Developing World, Tradition and Modernity: India and Japan towards the Twenty-first Century and Studies on Developing Countries.

Yamaguchi spoke to Asha Krishnakumar in Chennai on modern Japanese social sciences research on India, Japan's perceptions of modern India and features of Japan-India economic relations. Excerpts from the interview:

Could you highlight the main features of contemporary Japanese social science research on India?

Many scholars and researchers in the fields of sociology, economics, history, literature and political science have been working on India.

A couple of researchers are working on Indian agriculture. Broadly, the studies show that there has not been enough public investment in agriculture to make sustainable growth possible. Four scholars are working on Indian industry, both modern and traditional. The most important and sustained contribution in this area came from Shoji Ito, the economist who is well known among Indian academics. He died recently.

A study team headed by Shoji Ito described the Indian economy as a high-cost one in which the market is closed. Studies are on to analyse the impact of globalisation on India, particularly on the vulnerable sections of the population.

There are three or four persons working on the Indian Constitution, and a few on Centre-State relations, the devolution of power to local bodies, panchayats and so on. There are comprehensive studies on certain States, even certain districts. Some are working on the judiciary. The Indian judiciary is something that is difficult for us to understand, since it follows the British system. Our system has copied the continental system, and British law is somewhat foreign to us.

There has been a general and not an academic discussion on political parties and political leadership. There have been studies on Gandhiji. The latest one is by Nawasaki Nobuko, who describes Gandhiji's work as an experiment in anti-modernism. There are works on the Congress party. Although we are used to understanding Indian politics in terms of what the Congress says, there is interest in other parties as well, for instance, in the works of E.M.S. Namboodiripad. EMS' book The Mahatma and his Ism was translated into Japanese by Kohai Ogatha.

A couple of researchers are working on the pre-Independence All India Kisan Sabha. These works have been translated into Hindi and English. There have been some sociological works on the caste factor in Indian politics. Some studies have been done on specific groups of people. There have been studies on Ambedkar, on Jogendranath Mandal, on Dalits, backward classes and so on.

From the beginning of the 1980s there has been a large study group centred in Tokyo and working on historical and contemporary aspects of the Indian caste system. In 1994 and 1995, it came out with a five-volume book called The Caste System and Discriminated People. (The first three volumes were published in 1994 and the fourth and fifth volumes in 1995.) The study attempts, first, to look at the caste system as a dynamic and constantly changing system. Secondly, it analyses the social and political movements that occurred in order to change, in most cases, the position of particular jatis, and sometimes the system itself. Thirdly, it pays special attention to the various forms of discrimination connected with the caste system.

The first volume, edited by Genichi Yamazaki and Masanori Sato, is on the ancient and medieval periods. The second volume, edited by Hiroyuki Kotani, is on the British impact on India, with emphasis on legal aspects. The third volume, edited by Masao Naito, is on liberation movements. The fourth volume, edited by Haruka Yanagisawa, is on socio-economic changes in different parts of India and the fifth volume, edited by Fumiko Oshikawa, is based on detailed field work conducted in West Bengal, some States of North India and Gujarat.

These volumes cover, in varying degree of intensive study, most of India. Several articles have been written on Bengal, the Hindi belt, Gujarat, Maharashtra and South India. There is an article each on Assam, Orissa, Punjab and the Jharkhand area. English and many of India's regional languages have been used in the research work.

Noburu Karashima has done a lot of work on medieval history. A pioneer in Dravidian studies, he has done a lot of work on Tamil Nadu. He and some other scholars have been concentrating on the study of the working class and peasants in Tamil Nadu over the past century or so. Their works have been largely on issues of access to land, its distribution and so on.

What, in your opinion, are the factors that motivate Japanese scholars working on India?

India is a case of great experiment in development within a democratic set-up, and is, in that sense, unique. If India is able to achieve development - and not only growth, which is, of course, important - then it will be a great lesson for us. Growth should also go to reduce existing disparities by empowering the weaker sections, as promised by the Indian Constitution. India is yet to succeed in this experiment of achieving growth and reducing disparities. But if it does, it will convey an important message to the whole world. It is in that respect that we are interested in India. If we did not study India but only East and South-East Asia, then our knowledge and understanding of economic, social and cultural issues would have been very narrow. There is nothing we can learn from the East Asian countries.

The East Asian miracle has gone bust. It is no more than the Japanese miracle of the second half of this century. Now Japan is also going through a prolonged and deep economic depression, and we do not know how we will come out of it. This is largely because both Japan and the East Asian countries had some kind of a dictatorial development which, unlike India, targeted only growth. Also, investments were largely speculative - in real estate, for instance - and much credit was given outside the country. We had political democracy but the management of the economy was always concentrated in a few hands. This was the general pattern in the East Asian countries as well. So there is nothing new for us there that we would like to learn.

Japan normalised its relationship with India in the early 1950s, before it did so with China and some South-East Asian countries. Nevertheless, trade relations between India and Japan remain at a relatively low level compared with Japan's trade relations with China and South-East Asia. How do you explain this?

There are different views on this. I think that it has mostly to do with the kind of political alignments that have emerged, particularly from the time of the Vietnam war in the late 1960s. The process appears to continue even now. It is fashionable to talk about the Asia-Pacific economic region or growth centres. Next to Japan, the newly industrialised countries (NICs) - Korea, Thailand, Singapore and Japan, known as the "dragons" - were thought to be growth centres.

The only criterion of evaluation here was growth - growth at any cost. Such an evaluation did not take into account environmental factors, social factors, distributional factors and so on. Everything was directed to achieve a certain rate of growth of GDP. India and China, however, were not guided by this idea. They were considered by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other similar multilateral organisations to be lagging behind.

Japan, however, was in the race for "growth at any cost" along with the Asian dragons. These countries began to assume dominant positions after the Vietnam war. For these economies, investment and exports were everything. Around this time, multinationals began to expand in Japan. The Asian countries were thought of as export-thrust areas. Many MNCs (multinational companies) established production bases in Asia.

There is a limit to which the liberalisation of the economy can take place. This is clear from the South-East Asian experience and also from the Korean economy recently. This recent experience shows how dangerous it can be if you open up the economy without taking the necessary measures within the country. It could be that they have opened up the economies too much before narrowing the disparities in their own societies. There are a whole lot of socio-economic issues underlying the bursting of the bubble known as the South-East Asian miracle.

There is the danger of all the countries pitching for an export market. This leads to over-competition, as in the case of cars. This kind of development will stifle growth, and this is what happened to the East Asian economies and to Japan, which has been going through a deep recession over the last one year.

Japan's direct investments in India are about one-thirtieth of the amount it has invested in China.

The reasons for low Japanese investments in India compared to that in China are, first, the fact that China opened up its economy about a decade earlier than India. Secondly, culturally speaking, the Japanese feel closer to China. Thirdly, the language problem for us is also much less in China; we can read their language even if we do not speak it. Fourthly, China's industrial development was along its coast, facilitating easy re-exports.

Japanese investment interests in India are increasing. Suzuki-Maruti has been a success story. Now our main concern is whether the Indian domestic market should be targeted or whether India should be another export platform.

A major problem with India is poor infrastructure. The other problem is with technology transfer. For instance, after we train an Indian for some months, more often than not he leaves for a higher remuneration elsewhere. Our efforts and resources go waste. In Japan, this is termed a failed transfer of technology. This will never happen in Japan. In our country in such cases of training the person has to stay with us for a given period of time, in all probability until he retires. Thus, there are many differences in the work climates in India and Japan that inhibit the Japanese from investing in India.

What do you consider to be the factors that have influenced the Japanese perception of modern India?

The perception, to a large extent, is that created by Jawaharlal Nehru. All Japanese know about Gandhi and Nehru, especially about their roles in leading India to independence from the British.

There are other things that have affected our perception of India, including the death of Nehru and China's war on India during the border dispute of 1962. For the two great countries that had helped each other and collaborated with each other to fight against each other was a big blow to us. In addition, certain politico-economic alliances and relations have gradually erased the presence of India in the minds of the average Japanese. The Japanese began to think more and more in terms of the NICs, in terms of growth, overseas economic expansion, increasing overseas investments and so on - a policy in which there is practically no room for high political ideals. Japan is, as a French economist once said, an economic animal. Unless there are economic relations, it is difficult for Japan to be close to another country. But things are changing.

The Japanese, especially young people, are interested in visiting and learning about India; older people choose to go to China, primarily because its culture is closer to ours. They also go to China with a guilty conscience because of the war. There is no such problem about India.

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