The Daily Fix

‘Don’t confuse development with elitism’: 10 reads from Left & Right on bullet trains and Japan

Praise and criticism for the high-speed rail project which is being built with Japanese credit and expertise.

Japan President Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday pushed a button to lay the foundation stone for a landmark bullet train project, set to be built between Mumbai and Ahmedabad over the next five years. The train forms the centre-piece of a growing relationship between India and Japan, at a time when common worries about an expansionist China are pushing the two countries closer to each other. Yet, coming at a cost of more than Rs 1 lakh crore, it has also sparked much criticism in a country where derailments on much slower trains are depressingly routine.

Abe’s visit to India came with much fanfare, just three years after a similar reception was laid out for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also got to tour Ahmedabad with Modi. The interim period has seen tensions with Beijing spoke, prompting New Delhi to look to Tokyo for both defence cooperation as well as trade deals.

Commentary from the Left, Right – and even an Op-Ed from Abe himself – looked at the nature of this relationship, and what the bullet train means for India.

  1. When the first Rajdhani left Delhi for Howrah in 1969, it too was branded “elitist” and a luxury for a poor country, writes Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman of Feedback Infra Pvt Ltd, in the Indian Express. “We should be careful not to confuse leapfrogging technology development with elitism – whether it is mobile phones, satellite launches, regional air-connectivity or high-speed rail.” 
  2. G Raghuram, director of the IIM-Bangalore, says in Mint the ground-breaking project is indeed a “great beginning for India,” but also points out five challenges that the country will need to overcome if the bullet train project is to be successful, including land acquisition and route design. 
  3. “This could be India’s bhaagta hai moment. So, let’s finally say sayonara to chalta hai,” writes Ravneet Gill, CEO of Deutsche Bank AG India in the Times of India. 
  4. Pallavi Aiyar, a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum, says in the Hindu that the bullet train project is both a geostrategic and business coup for Japan, which has struggled to sell its high-speed rail technology overseas. 
  5. “In areas where Japan has put up the [High Speed Rail], local government revenue receipts have grown at almost twice the rate compared to areas which do not have HSR connectivity,” writes Aashish Chandrokar, a management consultant, in Hindu Businessline. “If this trend works in India, it will be a boon because Palghar, Daman and Valsad are relatively less developed.”  
  6. “India’s rail system may not be that fast or rival that of China’s, but the government’s move to attempt to build such a system makes sense,” writes Leslie D’Monte, tech editor of Mint. 
  7. “There will be a very sharp learning curve but its impact will not just be on railways but in India’s industrial economy as a whole,” writes former foreign secretary Shyam Saran in the Hindustan Times. “With proper planning, it may help create an entire new ecosystem of high performance in the country.” 
  8. “Modi and Abe have certainly raised the expectations for a potential alliance between Delhi and Tokyo. But they can’t afford to fall short on implementation amidst the current geopolitical churn in Asia,” writes C Raja Mohan, the director of Carnegie India in Indian Express. 
  9. “What holds well today, may not hold good tomorrow,” writes Narayan Krishnamurthy, editor of Outlook Money. “There is every bit of possibility that there may not be a pressing need to travel between destinations that the bullet train is planned to service... In the absence of drastic measures, the bullet train will be one more project which will have everything interesting going for it, but may not find enough takers.” 
  10. “In 2022 when the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line opens, it must become an inflexion point not just for that one line and those two cities but for transport and transport infrastructure in that region and, subsequently, all over India,” writes journalist Sidin Vadakut in Mint.  
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