Prime Minister Modi’s trip to Japan could be more than a visit to a friendly nation. It has a potential to unlock civilisational synergies
There is news that among his first visits abroad the Prime Minister of India has decided to include Japan. For those of us who wish to see a second cycle of Asian resurgence, or, to use a term popularised by Japanese nationalist groups in the early decades of the last century, a resurgence, or a re-emergence of ‘Asianism’, this augurs well. India may well act as the bridge and a resuscitator for a vibrant and future-focussed Asianism, weaving civilisational aspirations with the hopes and dreams of a more equitable world order that guarantees the accommodation of diversities of approach, interests, views and ways.
It was in the early days of the Indian revolution that the seeds for this Asian resurgence had been sown. The ideals of the Bushido, for example, had deeply inspired the early Indian nationalists who referred to the need for inculcating the Samurai code of chivalry among the youth, especially the generation which, they hoped, would eventually lead and shape a free India. Nitobe Inazo’s 1899 Japanese classic Bushido: the Soul of Japan, saw several reprints and among its first translations that appeared in a foreign tongue was a Marathi edition that became highly popular among Indian nationalist groups, then crystalising in Western India. Sun-Yat-Sen’s triumph in uniting China against a formidable feudal challenge made the Indian nationalists realise, for the first time, the possibilities of a revolution succeeding and actualising the promise of unity and bringing to fruition the vision of a liberated people.
The Japanese nationalist and artist Kakuzo Okakura was perhaps looking up to India as a civilisational bridge that would inspire a resurgent ‘Asianism’, when he began his opus, The Ideals of the East (1903), with the now famous exhortation, “Asia is one. The Himalayas divide, only to accentuate, two mighty civilisations, the Chinese with its communism of Confucius, and the Indian with its individualism of the Vedas. But not even the snowy barriers can interrupt for one moment that broad expanse of love for the Ultimate and the Universal, which is the common thought-inheritance of every Asiatic race, enabling them to produce all the great religions of the world, and distinguishing them from those maritime peoples of the Mediterranean and the Baltic, who love to dwell on the particular and love to search out the means, not the end, of life.”
One of the doyens of the nationalist revolution in India, now forgotten perhaps because his radicalism was unsettling for many, Rash Behari Bose, found shelter, sympathy and support in Japan nearly a century ago (1915), in his struggle for Indian liberation. In his detailed study Bose of Nakamuraya: an Indian Revolutionary in Japan, Takeshi Nakajima brings alive this episode. One of Bose’s chief benefactors and supporters, the nationalist writer and scholar, Shumei Okawa, wrote one of the best accounts of colonial exploitation in India when he penned The Current Status and the Origin of the People’s Movement in India.
Okawa’s study of the Indian condition was also a severe indictment of the policy then followed by the Japanese Government of entangling itself in an Anglo-Japanese alliance at the cost of the oppressed and colonised people of Asia. “It is a matter of great concern”, cautioned Okawa, “that by being loyal to the British we Japanese are ultimately committing harakiri.”
In transforming Rash Behari Bose, the Indian revolutionary to “Bose of Nakamuraya”, who through his political, cultural and culinary wisdom — the Indian curry of Nakamuraya popularised by Bose remains to this day a grand tribute to the bonding of these two people and civilisations — created the first active bridge between the thought-leaders of Japan and the people of India, these Japanese intellectuals and academia did play a decisive role.
The new Indian Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Japan, may thus be an occasion, not only to pay tribute on the centenary of Rash Behari Bose’s Japanese sojourn but also to all those Japanese thinker-activists who came forward to erect the early bridge of India-Japan relations inspired by the vision of a greater “Asianism.”