Any unprecedented development always begins with a shock. When Kolkata had the country's first underground metro in 1984, none other than a member of the then ruling Left in West Bengal had feared that the tunnels could get waterlogged during excess rainfall, paving way for disaster. On Thursday, September 14, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said that when the Rajdhani Express had been introduced in the late 1960s, many had criticised it but later wanted to travel in it. Time is afterall, money.
The problem with the Indian mindset is that it fears the magnitude. The bullet train is something which he still relate with the developed countries and societies and invariably feel what about the poor in the country. On occasions like these, we tend to turn socialistic with a pseudo sympathy for the poor. But that is a misdirected thought. Not all developed countries were developed from Day 1 and had put in a lot of hard work to reach where they are today. The economic standards of their people have also improved over the days and one of the best means to achieve this improvement is by upgrading transportation.
After Suzuki, Shinkansen: Japan does India a favour again
Japan's contribution towards revolutionising India's automobile sector is unforgettable. In the early and mid 1980s, it was Japan's Suzuki which had changed this country's taste for automobiles for ever. From the dull and monotonous days of the Ambassadors and Fiats, Maruti Suzuki had proved to be the game changer and it has still held its position in the Indian automobile industry. Three decades later, it is again Japan which is backing India's efforts – this time to revolutionise its railway sector by helping it acquire the Shinkansen bullet train. The story of India's age-old railways will be changed forever once the high-speed railway project becomes a reality.
True, the foundation stone of the bullet train is being laid at a time when the country is witnessing regular train mishaps. Even on the day of the bullet train's inauguration, the Jammu Rajdhani got derailed at New Delhi Railway Station and critics were of the opinion that the government is aiming high for the bullet trains when it can't run the ordinary ones.
This logic is flawed.
The journey of the Indian Railways is doomed anyways. The behemoth has been so over-burdened and underfed that one day or the other, it is bound to collapse under its own weight. The government can't really turn the existing railway system into an effective, fast-paced and less-burdened one quickly since years of ill-conceived exercises have left it seriously crippled.
The infrastructure is in shambles, the culture of subsidy and the imbalanced competition with the airways have left it badly hurt while corruption is still to be weeded out completely. Cleaning up this entire mess is time consuming and yet there is no surety that things will fall in place. In these circumstances, laying the first groundwork for the bullet train gives hope to Indian Railways.
Indian Railways needs speed
The biggest benefit that the bullet train offers is the speed. In today's times when the snail-paced railways is losing the battle outright against the air carriers, the bullet trains will restore some credibility by enhancing the speed. In a big country like India and in this age of business, trains need to be fast enough to keep pace. This way, the bullet train can prove to be a bog game changer.
New work opportunities
The second benefit of the bullet train is that it will open new job opportunities for Indians since the sector is completely fresh. And instead of turning it into an overburdened sector like the railways, emphasis on quality and expertise can see it turning into a high-priority service sector, eventually helping our economy.
International strategic boost
A third significance of the bullet train is international. Through the realisation of this high-profile project, India will cement its strategic bonding with Japan to put up a joint competition against China. Japan's bagging the bullet train project in India at a time when it is having a serious competition with the Chinese over high-speed trains in Asia will hurt Beijing's superiority complex no doubt no matter how much it says that it is "pleased" with the development or that India-Japan ties do not really pose a threat to it.
As one of the fastest developing economies in the world, India's acquiring bullet trains will help its image as well as economic fortunes on the ground. New Delhi can make use of the bullet train project once it deepens its network in the country by integrating other South Asian neighbours, boosting the feeling of fraternity in the region.
For the critics, there is no point in equating the bullet train with issues like demonetisation or Hindutva and treat it as a 'negative' thing to have happened in the years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. For an emerging economy, bullet trains are not something bad to happen and we need to put our thoughts in the right perspective.