2ndlook

Indian Railways – The British Legacy

Posted in British Raj, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on August 26, 2010

 

Romancing the Raj

Modern Indians carry this rather ignorant impression that Indians railways was a departing gift by the British to independent India. This is especially true of post-Independence, 2nd and 3rd generation Indians, who never travelled or saw the colonial railway system trains.

This impression is aided and abetted by Western media too. Recently, Robert Kaplan writing in The Atlantic gushed how the “British, by contrast, brought tangible development, ports and railways, that created the basis for a modern state” of India.

As though, India could not have ‘bought’ or developed railway technology on its own – from or without the British. After all India has developed a significant air-transport system. Or the comprehensive road network – which is getting further expanded and upgraded.

A further examination of facts exposes a completely different picture about the British claims about Indian Railways also.

Indian Railways

After the boycott of the Simon Commission, from 1927, and the death of Lala Lajpat Rai (Nov 17, 1928), it was clear (especially to the British) that their days were numbered. Britain enacted The Government of India Act, first in 1919 and then in 1935. Facing problems at home and abroad, the significant British interest in India was extraction of remaining wealth in Indian hands.

Elephants were widely used instead of engines - due to engine shortage and easier maneuverability of elephants.

Elephants were widely used instead of engines – due to engine shortage and easier maneuverability of elephants.Click on image for larger picture.

Indian Railway system too suffered  from this approach.  Especially after WWI, the Great Depression  and the currency crisis, starved of investments and renewal, Indian railways suffered.

During WW2, nearly 40% rolling stock from India was diverted to the Middle East. More than 50% of the track system was the outdated metre gauge and narrow gauge. Track systems were nearly a century old. 40% of the railway system went to Pakistan. 32 of the forty-two separate railway systems operating in India, were owned by the former Indian princely states. More than 8000 outdated steam engines were used as motive power – and less than 20 diesel locomotives were in use. Apart from elephants and people – called as ‘hand-shunting’ in Indian Railways lingo.

So much for the British gift of railways to India.

Rampant extraction

The railways run by the Indian princely states became party to the collusive price fixing systems. Like this extract (linked to the right) shows, all the business went to the British engineering yards. To this add the guaranteed returns systems, and what was achieved was something else.

“The guarantee system did not encourage cost control, and, at an average cost of BP18,000 per mile, the Indian railways were some of the costliest in the world. (from Another reason: science and the imagination of modern India By Gyan Prakash, page 165).

Indians took to railway travel – quickly, easily and in large numbers.

Indians enthusiastically took to train travel from the start. This confounded the arguments made by some who suggested that considerations of caste and religion would lead many South Asians to shun train travel because they would not agree to the close personal proximity sitting or standing in the coaches required. Women for reasons of modesty or demands of seclusion were expected to be particularly resistant to rail travel. Others argued that poverty would make travel by train impossible for all but the well-to-do. In the event many of all castes, classes and gender traveled by train. (from Engines of change: the railroads that made India By Ian J. Kerr.).

Even though the poor Indian passenger was more than 80% of the traffic, he was always short-changed.

Third-class passengers quickly became and remained the most numerous passengers and the railroads’ largest source of revenue from passenger traffic. High volumes-87 percent of passengers carried in 1902 traveled in third-class-more than compensated for low fares. (from Engines of change: the railroads that made India By Ian J. Kerr.).

Safety last

Starved of investments and maintenance, the railways infrastructure at the time of British departure was crumbling. Colonial British (subsequently, the Indian also) response was to affix the blame onto the employee at the lowest rung and move onto the next one accident.

Elephant shunting a train on the Bengal-Nagpur railway. Picture quality makes it probably from WWII period.

Elephant shunting a train on the Bengal-Nagpur railway. Picture quality makes it probably from WWII period.

Post-independence India continued with this practice – till LB Shastri called a halt to this. In 1956, the Madras-Tuticorin express plunged into a river when a bridge at Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu) was washed away in floods. 144 (some records suggest 156) passengers died. Shastri resigned from the Union Cabinet – claiming moral responsibility for the railway accident.

This resignation saw LB Shastri become a political legend. This (resignation) also changed the mindset of the Indian Railways. After fresh elections of 1957, one year later, he was re-inducted into the Union Cabinet.

Steadily, over 30 years, Indian railways infrastructure was upgraded. And accidents decreased.

But the problems did not end there. The Great Gift of the British to India, railways was not only a vast scrap heap of metal, but a den of corruption – as documented in the Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee (J. B. Kriplani), 1955. Corruption and safety took another 50 years – by the 1990’s, by when the the entire railway system was modernized and computerized.

What we see today

In 1952, it was decided that IIIrd class passengers deserved fans and light. It took another 7 years to implement this decision. Elephants used for shunting wagons, box-cars, finally got a respite after WDS-4B shunters were introduced by Chittaranjan Locomotive Works in 1969. Safety bars in windows were introduced on night trains in a phased manner over the 1970s. Till then, most trains had open windows leading to passenger-safety issues. Earlier, it meant “getting into a third-class general compartment — through the window, literally pushed in by someone on the platform. Well, now all the windows have a grill provided for the safety of the passengers”.

Extract from A history of modern India, 1480-1950 By Claude Markovits, page 433. Click on picture for larger text.

Extract from A history of modern India, 1480-1950 By Claude Markovits, page 433. Click on picture for larger text.

It took a non-Congress Government in 1977 to change the face of Indian Railways. Prof.Madhu Dandavate, the Railway Minister in the 1977 Janata Government started the railway renaissance in India. 3rd class railway travel was abolished. Wooden-slat seats were abolished. Cushioned 2nd class seating system was made minimum and standard. Train time tables were re-configured. Reservation systems improved. Railways started getting profitable.

The de-colonization of Indian Railways began effectively in 1977 – 30 years after British departure. Symbolically, that was also the year that the Rail Museum was set up. The progress after that has been remarkable. Without going into the merits of safety and comfort, today Indians can travel at significantly lower cost. For a US$5, an Indian can travel for 1000 km – compared to nearly US$100 for 1000 km (gold-adjusted dollars).

All this when only 25% of Indians travel by rail at least once a year.

The benign British

Should we complain so much, if we inherited a decrepit, run down, accident prone, investment starved railway system with outdated technology from the British – though financed by loot from India?

OLD FAITHFUL: An 80-year-old elephant shunting a Railway boxcar in 1945 , Picture courtesy - The Times of India, Dated 27th February, 2010

OLD FAITHFUL: An 80-year-old elephant shunting a Railway boxcar in 1945 , Picture courtesy – The Times of India, Dated 27th February, 2010

Even though it took India 40 years, to modernize the colonial railway system, we should be thankful. Remember, they could have uprooted the rails, and taken away the wagons and engines. After all, Indian Railways was the biggest scrap iron collection in the world at that time.

Till Lal Bahadur Shastri’s resignation – the poor Indian railway-man was routinely blamed for railway accidents – by his British, and later the Indian bosses also.

 

India – The Shashthipoorthi Purana

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, History, India, Media, politics, Religion, Satire by Anuraag Sanghi on August 14, 2010

60 years of the Indian Republic

On 26, January, 2010, as per Christian calendar, and 11, Shukla Paksh, Magh, 2066, of Vikram Samvat, my family discovered an ancient Sanskrit manuscript – called the  षष्टिपूर्ति पुराण Shasthipoorthi-purana. Buried underground in an earthen pot, we stumbled upon it, as we were readying to hoist the Indian flag on Republic day.

An important day in some parts of India, षष्टिपूर्ति Shasthipoorthi, is celebrated when a man has achieved 60 years of age – and is now considered wise. Coincidentally,  we discovered the षष्टिपूर्ति पुराण Shasthipoorthi-purana manuscript also on the षष्टिपूर्ति Shasthipoorthi year of the Indian Republic!

Sixty years of the Indian Republic!  Any wiser …

Strange tale

I have been studying the षष्टिपूर्ति पुराण Shasthipoorthi-purana manuscript for the last six months. It tells a strange tale – written some 800 years ago, and traces a futuristic eight hundred year war against Asuras. I have been able to easily read the last chapter which I am giving below. Easily, because षष्टिपूर्ति पुराण Shasthipoorthi-purana intriguingly predicts and uses English words – even before these words were invented by the British. All other puranas are about the past – and are not futuristic. But this one …

This last chapter of the षष्टिपूर्ति पुराण Shasthipoorthi-purana tells us about a hundred year battle (1840-1940) and the defeat of the armies of Raktasuras. Interestingly, this 100 year battle coincides with the death of Ranjit Singh (1839) and the escape of Subhash Chandra Bose (January 1941). The Raktasuras, (reminds me of the British) were descendants of two brothers – Yavanasura (Greeks) and Romasura (Romans).

Victory celebrations

As the people of Bharat-varsha celebrated the ‘victory’ over the armies of Raktasura, they did not see how the retreating soldiers from Raktasura were scattering seeds. Of a fast spreading poisonous, desert tree – मरुः विष-वृक्षः. This मायावी mayavi tree, bears sweet tasting, colorful, fragrant fruits. Highly addictive, all the fruits from this desert tree dull the mind, yet make us feel powerful. Also, resentful against those who stop us from eating these fruits.

The mirage of democracy!

The mirage of democracy!

Similar to the mango fruits in appearance, the people of Jambudwipa and Bharat-varsha quickly got addicted to this मायावी mayavi fruit. The people of Bharat-ah appointed gardeners and forest-guards to grow and get a continuous supply these fruits.

The gardens where this मायावी mayavi trees are cultivated, gardeners trained are called Universities, colleges, institutes, research centres, etc. in English.

These मायावी mayavi fruits have deceptive names. As people gorged on these poisonous fruits, they became sick – and wanted more of this fruit.

The purana had some interesting names for these fruits.

The fruits of democracy

One fruit is democracy – which lulls us into a stupor of inaction, while it gives us an illusion of being powerful. Instead of being involved in our societies, localities and communities on a daily basis, it wakes us up once in five years at election time. After five years of stupor and laziness, this fruit makes us talk loudly, rudely.

And we go to sleep again.

The fruit of democracy also corrupts our mind. Instead of focusing on the behavior of  rulers and politicians, it diverts our minds to replace one bad ruler with another. It creates a collusive polity where bad rulers conspire with each other, against us.

This fruit of democracy is a strange poison.

Merchants of poison fruits

Instead of chasing out the vendors of these poisonous fruits from the bazaar, this purana predicts we will become supporters of these vendors. Even fight with each other, predicted this purana. This manuscript got the names of the vendors right, also.

This purana captures the stark choice for the people of Bharat-varsha. A liberalizing Kawngress (Congress?) is better than a globalizing Bhajpaa (BJP!) which is the only hope against the regressive Vaampanthis (Communists).

The Vaampanthis are such a bad choice, who will sell us to the Chinese. Instead, the purana shows a ‘tough choice for the people. Choose Kawngress that will sell us to the Europeans. Better is the Bhajpaa who will get us the best price from the Americans.

Can this deluge of advertiser-pays content be handled?

Can this deluge of advertiser-pays content be handled?

मायावी Mayavi religion

The other मायावी mayavi fruit that they are selling us is the fruit of religion. A ‘secular’ wants the people of Bharat-ah to accept any religion. Bhajpaa, representing the hardline, conservative, rightwing wants the people to choose The One Better religion – Islam, Christianity or Hinduism. The Vaampanthis wants all of us to change our religion – and follow their All New, Godless Religion, dominated by priests, who worship themselves.

The षष्टिपूर्तिShasthipoorthi Purana gives a blunt prediction. People will fight over principles of adharm. Gurus will be made into gods.  This kind of adharm will take the place and in name of dharma. Anti-vedic beliefs will be promoted as Vedic derivations. Yantra (machines), tantra (technology) and mantra (formulae) will become more important than gyaan (‘true’ knowledge), says this Purana.

In India, in the last 60 years

Let us see what has happened in India in the last 60 years.

The 60 years of capacity building, under a socialist blue-print that Nehru proposed, which the Bombay Plan endorsed and the West ‘helped’ India to implement are winding down. The economic reforms of the last 20 years have diluted the excesses of State control.

These excesses are now being replaced by an ‘efficient’ private enterprise. Business is the new glamour sector. TV soaps now lionize Singhanias and Viranis – yesterday’s filmi villains. Meet the new set of Indian oligarchs. Highly feted, internationally acclaimed, these oligarchs are expanding their economic empires by creating ‘employment’.

Big fish eat small fish …

These oligarchs ‘outsource’ large parts of their business – much like Japanese supply chains. These small businesses are closely tied to the ‘mother-ship’. These SMEs (small and medium enterprises) will be the first to pay the price of business downturns or reverses. And the last to benefit from any business upticks.

In short, stop dreaming about an entrepreneurial India – the carrot of an ‘efficient’ private sector India that is being dangled in front of us. Instead, the three layers of another extractive economic model are likely to be oligarchs, these buffer SMEs, and employees. Instead of ‘inefficient’ public sector, we will now be ruled by an extractive oligarchy – closely tied to ruling elite.

Bound and gagged

The ruling elite and the oligarchs will in turn ‘help’ India to ‘integrate’ India with global system. Deliver us bound, gagged and powerless to international cartels. Oil, food, retail, entertainment, banking & currency, technology cartels.

He who pays the piper calls the tune ...!

He who pays the piper calls the tune ...!

We, the Consumer, with a capital ‘c’ will get a vast ‘choice’ – like in computers. You can buy Acer, Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, Toshiba – anything at all. Only one thing – they all run on Windows and Intel architecture.

And to satisfy our hurt of years of gouging, Bill Gates will now dominate charity.

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