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The Economy of British India – with Angus Maddison

with 2 comments

Angus Maddison is a world-renowned economic historian who is famous for his work on estimating the past GDPs of modern economies by different measures. I won’t go much details into his original work, but the pieces he wrote about Indian subcontinent are worth-reading. In this post, I will try to delve into his assessment of British rule in India (read the Mughal one also). Just to remind you, I am an Indian and Angus Maddison is a British national – so a difference in narratives (bias?) could be present in my write-up.

The Elitist British

The biggest change the British made in the social structure was to replace the warlord aristocracy by an efficient bureaucracy and army. In the first generation, British tried to Westernize India – introduced English education, tried out a few Social efforts and tried to modernize infrastructure. But soon they changed their course. Having failed to Westernize India, the British established themselves as a separate ruling  caste. They did not inter-marry, their kids grew up in separate schools and they socialized with separate clubs where “native” population was absent. Maddison compares –

“The British ruled India in much the same way as the Roman consuls had ruled in Africa 2,000 years earlier, and were very conscious of the Roman paradigm.

One of the positive sides of the whole thing was that the British never tried to settle down in India and remained low in number. This resulted in low taxation but Maddison described that it benefited the middle class and land-lords but not the bottom-of-the-pyramid peasants.

“There were only 31,000 British in India in 1805 … In 1911, there were 164,000 British … In 1931, there were 168,000. … The British had inherited the Moghul tax system which provided a land revenue equal to 15 per cent of national income, but by the end of the colonial period land tax was only 1 per cent of national income and the total tax burden was only 6 per cent. … Most of the benefits of the lower fiscal burden were felt by landlords, and were not passed on to the mass of the population. In urban areas new classes emerged  under British rule, i.e. industrial capitalists and a new bourgeoisie of bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors, teachers and journalists whose social position was due to education and training rather than heredity. In the princely states, the remnants of the Moghul aristocracy continued their extravagances – large palaces, harems, hordes of retainers, miniature armies, ceremonial elephants, tiger hunts, and stables full of Rolls Royces.”

The System of Exploitation

The main aim of British exploitation was to remit money to Britain. Again, as per Maddison, there were two phases of it. The British East India company had nothing but a short-term-profit-maker attitude while the British Kingdom had a long-term-rent-seeking approach. For example, Robert Clive, the East India Company General took quarter of a million pounds for himself as well as a jagir worth £27,000 a year. (worth mention comment from Maddison – British did not pillage on the scale of Nadir Shah, who probably took as much from India in one year as the East India Company did in the twenty years following the battle of Plassey.)

Comparatively, later on, the remittances became more smooth and systematic –

“the Viceroy received £25,000 a year, and governors £10,000. The starting salary in the engineering service was £420 a year or about sixty times the average income of the Indian labour force … Under the rule of the East India Company, official transfers to the UK rose gradually until they reached about £3.5 million in 18566, the year before the mutiny. In addition, there were private remittances … By the 1930s these home charges (i.e. remittances) were in the range of £40 to £50 million a year …  (also) About a third of the private profit remittances should therefore be treated as the profits of colonialism. “

Moreover, the Govt of India, which always ran fiscal surplus over the British Kingdom, ran into debts due to spurious reasons. Further, during the World Wars, Govt of India “gifted” (joke!!?) millions of pounds from its reserves to the British Govt. Maddison describes –

“In spite of its constant favourable balance of trade, India acquired substantial debts. By 1939 foreign assets in India amounted to $2.8 billion, of which about $1.5 billion was government bonded debt … (during World Wars) there were two ‘voluntary’ war gifts to the UK amounting to £150 million ($730 million). India also contributed one-and-a-quarter million troops, which were financed from the Indian budget.”

 Where Maddison differs

Maddison differs quite a bit on the topic of Industry. He countered arguments of R.C. Dutt, R Palme Dutt and Nehru on de-industrialization (i.e. the decline of the old handicraft industry without the compensating advance of modern industry) of India with his set of facts. He accepted the facts that the Mughals did have a large industrial base and with British rule and policies it died. But added an important quote –

“Oversimplified explanations, which exaggerate the role of British commercial policy and ignore the role of changes in demand and technology, have been very common and have had some adverse impact on post-independence economic policy”

Maddison argued that the Mogul Indian industry were to produce luxury goods for aristocrats. But after British rule begun, the higher echelons of Indian society were flipped upside down. The British officers and native “copycat” Zaminders had little attraction on the traditional Indian handicrafts. Instead they developed taste of British merchandise. Furthermore, with social changes in Europe, there were a decline in demand of handicrafts overall (not only Indian but also other European ones as well).  Along with that, cheap and better quality textile from Britain occupied Indian market. Maddison agreed that the above incidents probably threw a lot of Indians out of job but he adds that the per-capita textile consumption doubled due to cheap British imports. He explains –

“the displacement effect on hand-loom weavers would have been smaller than at first appears. The hand-loom weavers who produced a third of output in 1940 would have been producing two-thirds if there had been no increase in per capita consumption.”

But he, in the end, agreed that India was the net loser on textile industry due to long term colonial effects –

“In time, India built up her own textile manufacturing industry which displaced British imports. India could probably have copied Lancashire’s technology more quickly if she had been allowed to impose a protective tariff in the way that was done in the USA and France in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, but the British imposed a policy of free trade. British imports entered India duty free, and when a small tariff was required for revenue purposes Lancashire pressure led to the imposition of a corresponding excise duty on Indian products to prevent them gaining a competitive advantage.  … If India had been politically independent, her tax structure would probably have been different. In the 1880s, Indian customs revenues were only 2.2 per cent of the trade turnover, i.e. the lowest ratio in any country. In Brazil, by contrast, import duties at that period were 21 per cent of trade turnover.”

So the fundamental issue was on the “free-trade” without preparedness but not the British policies.

In fact Maddison threw light into a few different aspects of Indian industries. Britain used India as their Asian export Hub and that resulted in Indian industrial gain.

“By the time of independence, large-scale factory industry in India employed less than 3 million people as compared with 12 1/4 million in small-scale industry and handicrafts, and a labour force of 160 million.56 This may appear meagre, but India’s per capita industrial output at independence was higher than elsewhere in Asia outside Japan, and more than half of India’s exports were manufactures.”

So, even though Indian industry was small, it was better off most of its Asian counterparts. However, the industry relied on mostly British skilled workers to fill in the upper ranks and that (along with protective policies) led to a demise of Indian industries post-Independence.


Overall, as per Maddison, British urban economy was better off the Moghul one. It was more productive, modern and focused on  entrepreneurship. On the other hand, the condition of villages worsened because of “extractive” Zaminders, population increase and reduced per-capita land availability. The book overall is a fascinating read and I will probably write up another post to follow up on my evaluations and criticisms of Angus Maddison.

The primary resource – Class Structure and Economic Growth: India & Pakistan since the Moghuls (1971) by Angus Maddison.


Written by Diganta

February 7, 2013 at 12:40 am

The Economy of Mughal India – with Angus Maddison

with 4 comments

I read a couple of chapters of Angus Maddison who described Indian economy and its pitfalls quite vividly. Angus Maddison is a world-renowned economic historian who is famous for his work on estimating the past GDPs of modern economies by different measures. I won’t go much details into his original work, but the pieces he wrote about Indian subcontinent are worth-reading.

In short, both Mughal and British empire were significantly “elitist” and “extractive“, i.e. from power to money – everything was in the hands of a few. Contrary to the widespread belief in India, the common mass lived a little above the sustainability level and were hit by periodic natural calamity and crop-failures. The system or the economy in general was built to grind the common people into de-facto slavery. In this blog-post, I will focus on the Mughal rule (read the British one also).

The Elitist Mughals

To start with the Mughal system, Maddison notes –

“India had a ruling class whose extravagant life-style surpassed that of the European aristocracy.It had an industrial sector producing luxury goods which Europe could not match, but this was achieved by subjecting the population to a high degree of exploitation. Living standards of ordinary people were lower than those of European peasants and their life expectation was shorter.”

To expose the elitism in Indian society, he notes that the major export items those India had at that time were “salt-peter (for gunpowder), indigo, sugar, opium and ginger” but the import items were nothing but silver, gold and other precious stones. This highlights that on the national level, India exported items produced by ordinary populace where they imported items for elites only. Maddison went on the compare the European standard of living with the Indian ones –

“In spite of India’s reputation as a cloth producer, Abul Fazl, the sixteenth-century chronicler of Akbar, makes reference to the lack of clothing in Bengal, ‘men and women for the  most part go naked wearing only a cloth about the loins’. Their loincloths were often of jute rather than cotton. In Orissa ‘the women cover only the lower part of the body and may make themselves coverings of the leaves of trees’. They also lacked the domestic linen and blankets, which European peasants of that period would have owned.”

So the common people perished where the wealthy had it all. While average Indians didn’t have cloth to wear on, the Indian muslin were famous in Europe and was noted for aristocracy.

The health condition of common people was equally bad. Indian population almost stagnated for about 2000 years –

“Kingsley Davis has suggested that mortality rates in India were high enough to offset the very high fertility rates, so that there was little increase in population in the 2,000 years preceding European rule.”

The System of Exploitation

There lies the hierarchy and Maddison got it correct. The Indian system worked through the caste hierarchy and the agro-income from the lowest strata of the society used to bubble up as taxes to the upper elites.

“The revenue of the Moghul state was derived largely from land tax which was about a third or more of gross crop production, i.e. a quarter or more of total agricultural output including fruits, vegetables and livestock products which were not so heavily taxed … Total revenue of the Moghul state and autonomous prince-lings and chiefs was probably about 15-18 per cent of national income. By European standards of the same period this was a very large tax burden”

Not only the taxes were high, the tax money were used mostly in “consumption expenditure of the ruling class”.  Maddison further notes that the Jagir system in India was not hereditary and the Jagirs were posted from place to place. So, he “had an incentive to squeeze village society close to subsistence”. The village society was very docile and governed by the rules of caste. That was the primary reason why India was smoothly ruled by outsiders for years as Indians were more concerned about their “karma” as per their “caste” and not to sidestep it for a larger or revolutionary role in the society. One notable absence, as per him, was that Indians rarely tried to take up sea-trade as part of their profession since “religious beliefs inhibited foreign travel and commercial development by Hindus”. Furthermore, caste stagnated the society to new ideas and technology unless they are imposed from the rulers –

“In spite of extensive contact with foreigners, India did not copy foreign technology either in shipping or navigation, or in artillery and military organization, and this is one of the reasons it was conquered by Europeans. “

On the other hand the revenues from this exploitation channels were put in to the “hoarding precious metals and jewels and “construction of palaces and tombs”. The total land-irrigation work undertaken was as little as 5% of the total fertile-land.

On the brighter side though, Maddison mentioned that religious institutes in India did not consume as much money as it did in Europe.


In summary, in spite of a few glitches (I would discuss those later), Maddison probably got to the closest to the reality. There are very few Indian scholarly articles that could now-a-days confirm that Indians on an average were richer than the Europeans or the Arabs at the same time. The perils of elitist economy would be felt sooner than anyone expected – during Industrial revolution. The major Indian produce – things such as muslin – were dependent on aristocrats to buy. In a world where mass-production was much more important than elite products – Indians were bound to lose the trade war. Moreover, the producer lived in perils and he had little incentive to innovate or take his production scheme to the next level. All things necessary to produce a failed state were gathering mass under the lavish Mughal aristocracy. The myth of rich Mughal India is thus just another myth.

The primary resource – Class Structure and Economic Growth: India & Pakistan since the Moghuls (1971) by Angus Maddison.

Written by Diganta

February 4, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Colonialism and Economy

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In my earlier post I argued that colonialism has probably no long lasting economic effect on either of the colonizer or the colony. I got a couple of more points to display it. The first is that of Caribbean Island states. They got their independence in different times in the history but that has no effect on their economy. The first one to get independence was Haiti (1804) but they lag behind the all of other neighboring islands by much. The top-of-the-list Bahamas got their independence in 1973 and the second-in-list Puerto Rico is still a US Colony.

Caribbean Economic Performance and Year of Independence

The second set of data is of Turkey and Balkans. Turkey had a lot of area (in Europe) under their occupation for a long time in the history. However, in the long term, there is nothing to suggest that Turkey has economically a better performer than the rest. Rather it is more evident that the other East European colonies are doing far better than Turkey. In fact, until recently (till 1980s), Turkish people were far worse of the entire East Europe they ruled for centuries.

Ottoman Turk Colonies in Europe and Turkey

Ottoman Turk Colonies and Turkey

Both of these also shows that colonialism has limited effect on a economy of a country in the long term. Of course there are some effects in the short-term, such as draining resources or dependency, but in the long economic history drainage of resources has similar effects to that of a war. A war has seldom made a country poorer – especially if we take recent examples of Germany or Japan.

Colonialism, or as of that the whole thing called imperialism has a different root. If I can see through the eyes of Adam Smith, the famous economist and father of modern Economics –

No nation ever voluntarily gave up the dominion of any province, how troublesome soever it might be to govern it, and how small soever the revenue which it afforded might be in proportion to the expense which it occasioned. Such sacrifices, though they might frequently be agreeable to the interest, are always mortifying to the pride of every nation, and what is perhaps of still greater consequence, they are always contrary to the private interest of the governing part of it….”

Well, all that imperialism boils down to the pride of nation. The notion of a colony is a positive pride for the mother country and negative shame for the colony itself. It may be beneficial to the mother country in the economic sense. It may not be as well.

Written by Diganta

November 29, 2012 at 12:50 am

Social Justice and Mumbai Attacks : Arundhati vs Rushdie

with 6 comments

Arundhati Roy, one of the best Human Rights activists in South Asia, has probably got it wrong this time. So far, she was right to some extent to connect Indian city bombings with the Social Justice. This time, it has gone far beyond the justice and it seems she didn’t wake up in time.

I agree to her that the Hindu fundamentalists are a threat to country. It has been proved repeatedly for last 20 years. I also agree that social injustice has fermented a lot of friction points inside India. But, I don’t attribute this particular attack to the same cause.

There are a list of factual and analytic errors in her article – “9 is not 11” published in The Guardian and The Outlook. It also has a lot of “contextual errors”. Let me go over a few of them.

The Mumbai attacks are only the most recent of a spate of terrorist attacks on Indian towns

It’s an absolute failure to identify the distinctive nature of the Mumbai attack. Unlike the others, it was carried out by a set of foreigners who came to India only to launch the attack. The preparation and training involved in the Mumbai attack was far greater than the “hit and run” bomb attacks on other Indian towns. If the other ones required only the knowledge of Mobile phones, SIM cards, detonators, RDX and co-ordination over the internet, then this one requires additional skills such as – handling of GPS, lobbing Grenades, use of AK-47s and intense training on fighting till death for 60 hours.

It’s (The Taj) an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day.

This one hardly contextual in the ongoing Mumbai attacks.

On one side (let’s call it Side A) are those who see terrorism, especially ‘Islamist’ terrorism, as a hateful, insane scourge that spins on its own axis, in its own orbit and has nothing to do with the world around it, nothing to do with history, geography or economics. Therefore, Side A says, to try and place it in a political context, or even try to understand it, amounts to justifying it and is a crime in itself.

Side B believes that though nothing can ever excuse or justify terrorism, it exists in a particular time, place and political context, and to refuse to see that will only aggravate the problem and put more and more people in harm’s way. Which is a crime in itself.

The sayings of Hafiz Saeed, who founded the Lashkar-e-Toiba (Army of the Pure) in 1990 and who belongs to the hardline Salafi tradition of Islam, certainly bolster the case of Side A. Hafiz Saeed approves of suicide bombing, hates Jews, Shias and Democracy, and believes that jehad should be waged until Islam, his Islam, rules the world.

Among the things he has said are:

“There cannot be any peace while India remains intact. Cut them, cut them so much that they kneel before you and ask for mercy.”

This one is the most contextual in the ongoing Mumbai attacks. She admits that in some cases, terrorism doesn’t have any contexts. LeT and its mastermind belongs to that category.

Unfortunately, after this she compares Hafiz to Babu Bajrangi and tries to juxtapose the end results of these two persons. As per her article, Babu Bajrangi is set free despite his hate speech but Hafiz Saeed is “banned” by the UN.

Hafiz Saeed has lived the life of a respectable man in Lahore as the head of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which many believe is a front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Toiba. He continued to recruit young boys for his own bigoted jehad with his twisted, fiery sermons. On December 11, the UN imposed sanctions on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the Pakistani government succumbed to international pressure, putting Hafiz Saeed under house arrest. Babu Bajrangi, however, is out on bail and continues to live the life of a respectable man in Gujarat.

True, but how does it link Justice to the attacks. It’s rather proved that either of these two would have attacked their perceived opponents without any contextual reasons. For an update, Pakistan virtually did not take any action against Hafiz Saeed, neither can they take one.

Interestingly, with all these examples, she took up the the option B.

So, on balance, if I had to choose between Side A and Side B, I’d pick Side B. We need context. Always.

However, she did not include religion, illiteracy and blind-belief as context, which is unfair and creates an analytic error.

In this nuclear subcontinent, that context is Partition.

And what was the context of Partition? Isn’t that a mix of politics, religion and illiteracy? Why the history begins at partition and not from a thousand years of Caste system in India? Why doesn’t it include the rule of Aurangzeb? Why doesn’t it include the divide and rule policy of the British? History is eternal and so is the context. The history of justice and the absence of it is as long as the history of mankind.

air strikes to ‘take out’ terrorist camps may take out the camps, but certainly will not ‘take out’ the terrorists. And neither will war. …

A superpower never has allies. It only has agents.

Absolutely. I agree to this.

Terrorism is a heartless ideology, and like most ideologies that have their eye on the Big Picture, individuals don’t figure in its calculations except as collateral damage. It has always been a part of—and often even the aim of—terrorist strategy to exacerbate a bad situation in order to expose hidden fault lines. The blood of ‘martyrs’ irrigates terrorism. Hindu terrorists need dead Hindus, Communist terrorists need dead proletarians, Islamist terrorists need dead Muslims. The dead become the demonstration, the proof of victimhood, which is central to the project.

Wonderful way of putting it. Now, where does the social justice fit here? Aren’t we going farther away from the arguments in favor of social justice and more towards another deadly cause – propaganda?

After this she went into media-apathy in covering other news and the “good” and “bad” classification by the media which ended up asking for a “Police state”. I believe, if dacoits would have attacked my house, I would have put more vigil at my home from the time being. Why is it wrong to have as an immediate reaction? Isn’t it expected?

Next she delves deep into the Parliament attack, Delhi encounter with Indian Mujaheedin and Malegaon blast. Those are no way related to Mumbai attack, at least the no links has yet emerged. After that she blames the Nation states – India and USA – for a lot of misdeeds. I don’t disagree with most of them, but of course fail to see a connection with Mumbai attacks.

If 10 men can hold off the NSG commandos and the police for three days, and if it takes half-a-million soldiers to hold down the Kashmir Valley, do the math. What kind of Homeland Security can secure India?

Then she raises one question which is valuable to me. However, she did not propose any solution to that. The hint of solution came at her ending lines :

The only way to contain (it would be naive to say end) terrorism is to look at the monster in the mirror. We’re standing at a fork in the road. One sign says ‘Justice’, the other ‘Civil War’. There’s no third sign and there’s no going back. Choose.

I know the best answer to this actually came from Salman Rushdie. I am adding the video entry for his comments.

Also quote

But the point I want to make is that I do not believe that the terrorists such as these — I do not believe that their project has anything to do with justice.

Ask yourself the question that if the Kashmir problem were resolve tomorrow, if Israel-Palestine reached a lasting peace, do we believe that al-Qaeda would disband? Do we believe that Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad would put their guns down and beat them into plough-shears and say we would now be farmers because our job is done.

I mean the point about is that is laughable, right? And the point about that is that that is not their project. Their project is power. This is a power grab by the most obscurantist, revanchist, old-fashioned, medievalist idea of modern culture that attempts to drag the world back into the middle ages at the point of modern weaponry …

That’s what is fueling the Terrorism – as it did always in the past – the hunger for power. At this point, one might argue that its the social injustice that is generating that sense of deprivation and hunger for power. However, History doesn’t show us many such examples. Nor did it show the end of that hunger once the justice was “won”. One major example could be the Afghanistan Mujaheedins, who were nurtured by Pakistan and USA. They targeted the Soviet Army to expell them from Afghanistan to get their perceived justice. However, after the Soviet Army withdrew, they did not returned to the “Plough-shares” as mentioned by Rushdie. Rather, the majority of them, exported terror outside the territory – from Osama bin Laden in 9/11 to Bangla Bhai in Bangladesh. The case was simple for them – the sense of “injustice” changed once they achieved their bloody battle.What happens to the sense of injustice those are impractical – “Establishing a Ram rajya” or “Re-establishment of Caliphate in India”? Is it possible to arrange “Social Justice” to the victims of so-called context – the Partition.

Social justice, like everything else, has an equilibrium. Suppose there are two communities in a society – A and B. In a perfect democratic setup, A always wins since they are the majority. Now, B has a deep sense of injustice. Let me assume, as per Arundhati, that led to radicalization of the B community. The paradox is, if there are measures taken by the Government ran by A, to improve the status of B – that itself will create similar sense of injustice among A – may be less in percentage. However, the overall percentage of person, who are extremists because of injustice, remains the same, though, they are equally spread among the communities. So, the society doesn’t gain out of effort towards inclusiveness before we remove the community barrier. If both group A and B prioritize their Nation ahread of their Community, half the problem gets resolved. Now, the next question becomes – who creates the community barrier? I believe, there lies the answer … it could be race, color or religion.

The argument from injustice is a never ending one. The absolute justice is never possible. Because, the justice itself is a perception which, like all other inputs to human brain, can be manipulated or brainwashed. A deep sense of injustice can easily be injected into a person who has little to analyze. In our societies, where rational thoughts are always discouraged and elders are always true – no better can be expected.

Farakka once more

with 3 comments

It’s been long since I have written about Farakka – the barrage on the Ganges just before it enters Bangladesh. There has been no permanent treaties between India and Bangladesh on the water sharing at Farakka. However, there is a 30 year agreement between India and Bangladesh that ends after 2020. As per the agreement, India ensures 35000 cusec water for Bangladesh at even the driest possible season. The dam was supposedly for supplying more water to the dying Kolkata port, which has already dies its’ natural death and handed over the responsibilities to Haldia port – a new and better one.

If you Google around the term Farakka, you will encounter a lot of documents and articles about Indian unilateral water withdrawal. Some of them are written on factual basis but some of them are not. So far, I have found an excellent paper written by Mikiyasu Nakayama from Utsunomia University, Japan. An excellent analysis of the entire proposal and the history can be found in that.

I was delighted to found that both the proposals I raised in my previous article were indeed discussed between India and Bangladesh. And it was my pleasure to know that the proposal that I stessed on, was indeed put forward by the Robert McNamara, the President of World Bank in 1976. He proposed that a dams and water reservoirs should be built in Nepal to solve the long term water crisis in the Ganges. The dams could be on the tributeries of the Ganges (map), preferably on Kosi and Gandak. It was supposed to release water during dry season and to store during monsoon. Canada and World Bank both agreed to fund the project. It was not only for the storage, it would have created huge amount of hydro-electricity for both Nepal and India. Bangladesh also agreed to the proposal. But India did not.

India rejected the idea since it was going to ‘internationalize’ the issue and will involve a third party (Nepal). Indian policymakers stuck to the point that they’d help Bangladesh to construct a canal from Brahamaputra to the Ganges. Bangladesh opposed with the claim that it would involve displacement of a huge population in a densely populated country and also the Brahamaputra river might not have enough water during dry season. And I don’t see Bangladesh was wrong in that. Brahamaputra water is also diminishing (though better than the Ganges).

The other point India cited was the possible earthquake in Nepal could destroy thousands of life if the water breaks out of the dam. The same hold true for counter-Indian proposal to build a water-reservoir in upstream Arunachal to augment the lower supply in Brahamaputra. Either of these two is a probably bitter truth – a dam in either place can carry destructive effects downstream should there be an Earthquake. However, how else can we get extra water?

Nakayama noted that since India was not hungry for World Bank loans in 1970s, they actually did not even bother to care about the proposal. In 1950s, the situation was different when India and Pakistan signed the Indus Water treaty. The other notable observation was India basically stuck to the same pattern that it was successful with Pakistan – get total ownership of a few rivers and ask others to interlink ( with compensation of cost of canals ) – something that Pakistan did after the Indus Water treaty. But, it is clear to me that Indian policymakers lacked ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking and were more committed to stick to their position and never thought in terms of development of the whole region.

What would have possibly happened if Nepal was made a party to Ganges agreement? Indian policymakers could have thought from both political and technical point of view. They viewed it as an agreement where Nepal would come to the driver’s seat having the storage capacity. Also, they might think that it would be difficult to tackle both the countries instead of one at a time. The other point could be serious. A possible earthquake in Nepal would devastate high populated Indian areas including Uttar Pradesh. Well, that’s always a possibility with a water reservoir and we already have a lot of them all though out the country.

Instead of adding extra water to the supply, India and Bangladesh are still vying for water, from Teesta (another Indian river enters Bangladesh) and the Ganges. It is noted that India gets 39% of water from Teesta and more than 50% of the Ganges. However, the upper-riparian withdrawal is generally restricted to 20-25% in all resolved water disputes till date including Indus water treaty and the Nile river water sharing treaty between Sudan and Egypt.

The paper also noted the unwillingness of lower-riparian to gain popularity. I was personally very critical of Bangladeshi political climate where political parties do make politics out of this issue but showed little commitment towards solving it. He ended his opinion with a few possible reasons of failure including lack of mediation of an effective and neutral third party. ICJ interfered in only a single case on record – with Hungary and Slovenia on river Danube. That seems to me the last place for arbitration.

It is said that “better late than never”. Even if after 30+ years of bad policies towards Indians and Bangladeshis, some of Indian policymakers get rid of casual attitude towards development – it will be a bonus for majority Indians. It should be noted that the extra water could not only solve the dry season water crisis, but also could fix the diminishing ground water levels and the lower growth in agriculture for last couple of decades. In an era when the food prices are doubling every year, it’s worth taking a fresh look at the age-old problem. After all, what’s wrong if we have a few dams in Nepal?

Addition : An excellent scholarly review.

Update : Pakistan is going to claim compensation from India for the agricultural losses.

Written by Diganta

April 10, 2008 at 12:14 am

Posted in Bangladesh, History, India

Tagged with ,

Articles on Science and Religion by Einstein

with 14 comments

Any Scientific minded person who considers himself as a religious or an atheist, should read thses wonderful articles of Albert Einstein. These are, in a sense, an eye-opener to me, that how beautifully one could express the ways to reconcile religion and science. There are four master-pieces, all of them are worth reading at a stretch. I know there will be many religious people claiming that Einstein was a ‘deeply religious’, but what I found here, that he defined the religion in totally a different way to build himself as ‘deeply religious’. Let’s go through a few excellent quotes.

On how the religion has come :

“With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions – fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation … This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear …”

Problems in the above definition of religion and his own view :

“Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. … I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.  … The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

On morality :

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”

In praise of religion (article 1 and 2):

“The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. If one were to take that goal out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind.”

Defining a religious person and religion (Article 3) :

“a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonalvalue. … Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts.”

In support of Science :

“For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs.”

This is exactly where he sounds like an absolute Atheist :

“Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?  … The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. “

How religions with ‘personal God’ will play around Science :

“To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. “

A request to religious leaders to modify their approach to religion :

“In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests.”

Again restricting religion in the domain of idealism and attitude :

“As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship.”

On in-community brotherly love :

“For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. “

Overall, I feel the articles are really great. The gist is – Science and Religion are friends is they stay in their own ground. Science should not try to guide what is worthy and what is worthless, what we should do and what we should not. At the same time, Religion should not try to describe how the nature works, neither should it insist anything to be ‘created’ by God as a person. He condemned the idea of ‘religion of fear’, that is, the idea to tell people to be good only because some Omnipotent God will punish them otherwise after death. Overall, these come under one of the best read articles of my life time – they sound very strong.

Links once more.

Written by Diganta

July 31, 2007 at 8:52 am

Blogs on Philosophy of Science

with 7 comments

A few interesting posts I have come across over wordpress thanks to wordpress tag surfer. The first one discusses how the knowledge was developed in ancient civilizations and wherefrom it started to go dark. The blogger discussed about early socirty, mythology-religion development, trade and economy and also how the religion evolved. He did not forget to mention a few wise men of ancient greece (his writing is Europe oriented).

The next one tries to explain the relationship between stress and development. The blogger diagramatically described how the fear is related to stress-development gap. And he also examplified in support of his hypotheses, with modern day issues and reactions.

The last one talks about the critical thinking – to explain how we accumulate knowledge. I have pointed out the similarity of his writing with Dawkins’ letter that I have already discussed and translated too.

Happy blogging, keep it up.

Written by Diganta

July 6, 2007 at 6:00 pm

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