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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Who should take credit for development?
By Soroor Ahmed

If the NDA believes that it should be rewarded by the voters for building roads, railway lines and telecommunication network then the countrymen should initiate a campaign to bring the British back to India as their achievement in these fields is yet to be matched.

They laid down 60,000 kilometres of railway lines almost a century back. The Indian Railways have not even achieved a quarter of this figure since independence. The British got built lakhs of kilometres of roads. Thousands of kilometres of deep forests, rough terrain and mountainous ranges were cleared and huge bridges constructed末no mean accomplishment when technology was not so advanced. In 1857末the year in which the first war of independence was launched末the British established Calcutta, Madras and Bombay Universities. Power stations and telephone exchanges were set up all over the country.

Material development is a constant global phenomenon and no country can remain immune from it. We can find mobile phones and cyber-cafes even in Sub-Sahara Africa, where there is no grain to eat and where AIDS is wreaking havoc. Even neighbouring Pakistan has many super-highways, foreign cars and mobiles. More average Pakistanis travel by planes than India. Yet Pakistan is way back. 

The issue is not just building of roads, rails, bridges etc. The British created these infrastructure to give a boost to the industry back in their country. Railway lines were laid primarily to transport the raw materials from the interior of the country to the port cities only to be shipped out. Then again the finished goods from England were brought back to Indian market. Now we will have to decide whether we are building Golden Quadrilateral to give a fillip to the sale of foreign cars (as in Pakistan) or for the convenience of the common mass.

Just as we hold the British responsible for 1942 and earlier famines future historians would blame the present day rulers for the suicide of thousands of farmers, and that too in technologically advanced states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra etc. The British were not concerned about the plight of farmers as the growth in agricultural sector was not going to benefit them.

The British opened educational institutions with the primary motive of producing babus to run the government. Now we are feeling proud that we are producing good engineers, doctors, scientists, managers etc for the United States and Europe. 

The British developed the cantonment towns of Meerut, Kanpur, Agra and Allahabad after 1857. This helped the growth of boot and textile industries as the army personnel were the primary users. Similarly, after the advent of long range missiles and aircraft in the region we shifted our attention to South. Today Karnataka has five cantonment towns while Bihar only two. New defence related developments are taking place deep down in the country.
The big question is how much credit the existing government or an individual can take for the development? The development of a state or country depends much on geo-sociological realities and global politics. The feel-good factor can go haywire the moment oil price increases sharply or the USA imposes complete ban on outsourcing. Ironically it is the better knowledge of English, which helped us cash in on the outsourcing opportunity. Is not it that many in the BJP were extremely critical of English in the past.

Haryana is ranked among the developed state. Who should be given credit. Vision-less leaders like Om Prakash Chautala, Bhajan Lal, Devi Lal etc? To much extent Haryana owes its development to its proximity to the centre of political power.

Mumbai and Gujarat had been passing through a bad phase in late 1960s and early 1970s. Factories were getting closed. Men like George Fernandes and Datta Samant grew as union leaders. The oil crisis of 1973 further worsened the situation. But a decade later the scene started changing. The wealth acquired by Gulf states had positive impact on economy and industry of Mumbai and Gujarat. Kerala was the another state which got transformed because of Gulf money. 

No political party or personality can take credit for these developments. The irony is that the men who really had some vision of development末Gandhi and Nehru末are today being derided for keeping India backward.

The myth of growth rate needs to be exploded. France, for example, had the fastest growth rate in the first 13 years after the World War-II. Surprisingly, in that period there was complete political uncertainty and about a dozen government came and went till Charles De Gaulle took over in 1958. Similarly Italy and Japan had over 30 governments in the first 30 years after the World War-II, yet both the countries continue to develop. No Prime Minister or President took credit.

The problem with us is that there is no 租evelopment of mind. We are still debating whether eggs and meat should be banned or eaten. Our judges are busy hearing cases about the birth of Ram when millions of cases are pending throughout the country.
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