Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Enter the rising sun

by Ashok Ashta

THE TRAGIC earthquake in Gujarat made headlines in the Japanese media, and rightly so. Unfortunately, most of the time when India is in the news, other than for the CTBT debate, it is for tragedies, poverty and corruption and these are the images that then become embedded in the minds of the ordinary Japanese. You could blame their media for this.

However, even veterans who have dealt with India do not seem to have a favourable impression. They advise anyone starting dealings with India on the five As: Aserazu (do not be impatient), Awatezu (do not hurry), Anadorazu (do not despise), Atenishinai (do not have expectations) and Akiramenai (do not give up). Obviously, these are not the normal As that one desires on a report card.

The first four A's are inter-related and can be clubbed together. While the fifth A is encouraging, the poor view reflected in the first four should be a cause of concern to Indians who apparently admire Japan even more than the US, according to a recent survey commissioned by the Japanese embassy in Delhi. An impulsive reaction might be that if the Japanese hold India in such poor esteem, and if the Japanese dont need India, then India does not need Japan.

India and Japan have a long history of friendly relations and there is a strong potential for mutual benefit. While this is already recognised by our political leaders, the recognition must flow down to the common citizen so that the potential may be realised.

India stands to gain economically with a positive relationship with Japan. With the US economy showing signs of a slowdown, even an ailing Japanese economy must be tapped for the further globalisation of our economy. The task becomes all the more urgent as there are warnings that FDI inflows in the current fiscal might show stagnancy.

Japan stands to gain economically not only because of the size of the Indian market but because India holds a vital key for their economic resurgence - information technology (IT) solutions. On the spiritual front, as materialism gives rise to increasing stress in Japanese society, they have even more to gain by cultural contact with the birthplace of Buddhism.

What is it that needs to be done so that the potential of Indo-Japanese interaction and mutual gain is realised more? Two underlying causes need to be addressed for Indias sake, and then the complementary issue of how India can contribute to Japan must be raised.

One of the causes for the poor report on India is a fact that Indians, both politicians and the common man, cannot simply wish away our bloated bureaucracy. The impediment posed by our bureaucracy is repeatedly emphasised by the Japanese elite, and at forum after forum.

As far as our managers go, the best attract internationally competitive rates - if the Japanese want excellent Indian managers they should be willing to pay their accompanying price tags. Especially in the case of Indias golden star, IT, the Japanese need to be aware that there is a human resource crunch even in India. While India produces IT solutions that define international quality and set global standards, these services should not be expected cheap'.

They are reasonably priced, but certainly not cheap' (I clarify to the readers that the Japanese image of cheap' is defined by the images of poverty they see on their mass media - a perception that has to be changed).

So, the Indian government and our commercial ambassadors (in CII, FICCI etc.) would be well advised to first clarify the real actions that will be implemented to unshackle Indian labour and then remove the protective regulations that are in reality harming labour (except the privileged few who benefit from the protection).

Also, we should avoid the trap of overstressing cheap' instead we should initiate a paradigm shift in our countrys sales' efforts and start emphasising quality' relevant most in the case of IT. Our speech-makers should scour the dictionaries for all the synonyms of high quality' and replace cheap' with competitively priced' in their vocabularies. Besides, an honest admission is required for the new capitalism in India to provide services to the highest bidder.

The fact is that engineers from leading Japanese manufacturing companies that search for good components' manufacturers in India do find the level of Indian engineering higher than that prevalent in Southeast Asia - markets in which they have invested. An intelligent change in our sales presentation will help remove misguided expectations of the oxymoron - cheap excellence.

Of course, we can also give the Indian report card about the need for corporate Japanese to overcome its addiction to slow decisions. But this would be an unnecessary reaction; the occident has already handed such report cards on countless occasions.

Instead, the other important action that our ambassadors must take is to highlight the potential of Indian contribution to Japanese society. This should be made very much manifest in the Japanese mind - the potential of cultural contact.

On a less interactive plane we would do well to propagate Bodhgaya, Rajgir and Vaishali as important pilgrimage places of interest to Buddhists. We can emphasise the rich solutions that traditional Indian culture offers that would alleviate the high stress levels in contemporary Japanese society. Such offerings would include alternative medicines like Ayurvedic cures, the rich variety of Indian vegetarian cuisine and, of course, yoga.

Indo-Japanese interaction must go beyond simply improving political relations with Japan and dependence on economic aid. It must contribute to the prosperity - both economic and spiritual - of the people of both the countries.

Ashok Ashta is President of BUSINESS-INDIA/JAPAN, a private enterprise promoting Indo-Japanese Cultural and Business relations.

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