“Post independence, the total length of highways built across the country over the period of 65 years was 76,818 kilometres. Out of this, 29,000 kilometre long highways had been built prior to 1980. The total length of roads built over a period of 32 years after that was 47,000 kilometres, out of which 23,000 kilometre of road length was built over a period of five years between 1997 and 2002. This means, half of the total length of pakka roads and highways built over the period of 32 years were build during the six-year tenure of Vajpayee government.”
The classic adage ‘Tiger and deer do not stroll together’ needs no further explanation. Since Tigers sustain themselves by hunting deer and eating their flesh, the two animals can never be friendly with each other. Same logic applies when it comes to the corrupt rulers who rob and plunder the poor. Since the poor finance the lavish lifestyles of such rulers, they cannot afford to end the poverty. On the contrary, they have to talk big about poverty alleviation and at the same time ensure that the miseries of the poor will never end and thus fool the masses. Post independence, schemes worth crores of rupees were chalked out in India in the interest of the nation and upliftment of the poor. Billions of rupees have been spent on these schemes. However, there is no sign of poverty alleviation nor the end of the tradition of begging alms in the form of votes in the name of the poor is in sight. Today a point is being made to raise questions like how many employment opportunities has Prime Minister Narendra Modi has created or what has he done for the poor. However, no explanation is offered as to what has been done by those, who ruled over the country for sixty years and deceived the poor with false promises. Such details are avoided intentionally out of the fear that if such explanations are given, the information revealed would unearth sound evidence as to how subsidies and poverty alleviation were nothing more than schemes of plunder. In no country or society across the world, subsidies have succeeded in achieving poverty alleviation. Nowhere in the world, have grants and subsidies achieved upliftment of lives of the poor. On the contrary, societies, which gave priority to make the poor in the lowest strata of society self-reliant, have become greatest world powers. In such countries, the standard of living of poor was improved and social upliftment was achieved by building infrastructure, which encourages the poor to make optimum use of their talent, skills and strength and provides them ample of opportunities. Evidences of this are available in India too, albeit in very few instances.
Prior to Narendra Modi becoming thePrime Minister, Sonia Gandhi was controlling the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government using her remote control for a decade. Over the period of ten years, the UPA wasted billions of rupees on several initiatives such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Health Mission and Urban Renewal Mission. However, lives of how many poor changed for better because of these schemes and missions? How much of money was spent on this purpose during the prolonged regimes of Nehru, Indiraji or Rajiv Gandhi? How many poor could cross the poverty line because of it? If the poor could not rise above the poverty line, why it was so? Nobody would demand answer for such probing questions and even if anyone seeks answers, there would be none forthcoming because such schemes of grants and subsidies were basically designed to plunder in the name of the poor. This is the reason as to why Rajiv Gandhi stated three decades ago that if an amount of Rs 100 is allocated for the poor, hardly Rs 10 to Rs 15 actually reach them. If it is so, where does the remaining money go? The answer is that only Rs 10 to Rs 15 is the amount left after everybody right from the planner of the scheme to those executing it takes out his own share. Once this happens, even the poor are driven by their own short-term gains and spend the money instead of investing it for their own welfare. Thus, the poor remains poor and those who pretend to struggle to alleviate his poverty write rags to riches stories for themselves in a short span of time. This is how thousands of politicians, government employees and those close to them have scripted their rags to riches stories over the last seven decades. A contrary experience was during the non-Congress rule of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Vajpayee government succeeded in uplifting the poor without providing any grants of subsidy. To understand how such a miracle could take place, one has to go through the details of a submission made by the UPA government in the Supreme Court. The UPA government had to provide the details to the court in a matter, which came up before it four and a half years ago. The statistics revealed therein reveals the reality.
1,360 km India Myanmar Thailand (IMT) expressway — beginning from Moreh in India to Mae-Sot in Thailand. As per proposals from India, the highway could be extended to Vietnam via Laos and Cambodia.As per proposals from India, the highway could be extended to Vietnam via Laos and Cambodia. This connectivity can generate an estimated $70 billion annually in incremental GDP and $20 million in incremental aggregate employment by 2025.
Post independence, the total length of highways built across the country over the period of 65 years was 76,818 kilometres. Out of this, 29,000 kilometre long highways had been built prior to 1980. The total length of roads built over a period of 32 years after that was 47,000 kilometres, out of which 23,000 kilometre of road length was built over a period of five years between 1997 and 2002. This means, half of the total length of pakka roads and highways built over the period of 32 years were build during the six-year tenure of Vajpayee government. No Bharatiya Janata Party leader would be able to explain as to what could be achieved through it and there is no question of any Congress leader even attempting to address the question. Answer to this question has come from a financial journalist, Swaminathan Aiyyar. The era of grants and subsidies, which started from the rule of Nehru, and various grants and subsidies to alleviate poverty during the period were meant to provide direct personal benefits to the poor but neither the amounts nor the benefits ever actually reached the poor. However, the money spent by Vajpayee government on construction of roads was not in the form of personal grants. The expenditure was made on providing the infrastructure for the entire society. Aiyyar concluded that more the society became self-reliant due to the expenditure on infrastructure, the society; more the goal of poverty alleviation could be achieved. In one of his articles, he justified his conclusion with the help of statistics. Basic infrastructural facilities such as roads, education, research and water conservation play pivotal role in poverty alleviation. Consequently, expenditure of 1 billion made on building roads helped 335 people overcome their poverty while expenditure of like amount helped 323 people overcome their poverty. As many as 109 persons overcame their poverty because of every 10 lakh spent on educational facilities while 67 people could overcome their poverty because of every 10 lakh spent on water conservation work. Outcome of money spent on grants and subsidies is opposite. Only 42 people could overcome poverty per 10 lakh spent on providing grants in the form of loans, 27 could overcome poverty due to subsidies for power and only 24 could overcome poverty because of subsidy for fertilizers. Under such circumstances, for whom these grants and subsidies were meant for? Was it meant for the poor or it was for plunder by those in the rule and implementing schemes?
We may leave these details aside because we are not interested in analysing the domestic politics. We are keen to analyse here as to in which sector the government should invest funds and what long-term benefits such investments can provide for the nation and the society. The details given above were needed to highlight the importance of investments on roads and research. Goods and agriculture products could be transported speedily from one corner of the country to the other corner of the country because of construction of roads. As the roads ensured that the goods and products would reach the markets where there would be good price for them, the producers and farmers could claim more prices and make more money. This enabled them overcome poverty more speedily. As a result, there was more poverty alleviation. This phenomenon is not related merely to domestic development and upliftment. Roads have been associated with development ever since the human culture evolved. It is said that Sher Shah Suri built the first highway in the country. He not only built the road but also take precautions to ensure that those using it to transport goods and products are not looted. How comes the Indian rulers failed to realise that roads are necessary for speedy transport of goods and carriers, something that Sher Shah Suri has realised, till the latter half of 20th Century? Why no attempt was made to give priority to building roads until the Vajpayee government came to the power? Did the modern Indian rulers realise that building roads is necessary not only for developing and flourishing trade and commerce but also for maintaining foreign relations and ensuring security? Had they realised this, they would have given priority to create self-reliant Indian society instead of building a culture of grants and subsidies and thereby raising an army of begging Indians and developed India into a world power from Asia even before the start of 21st Century.
When the era of globalisation and free economy arrived, China too emerged on the economic scenario of the world. The first thing China did to do so was to do away with its socialist economy. By that time, the Soviet empire too had crumbled and socialist system did not exist anywhere in the world. During this period, China obtained assistance from capitalists and achieved her economic development through the Communist totalitarian rule in it. While doing so, it did away with the culture of grants and subsidies and embraced exploitative policy, which gave priority to the productive capabilities of the workers. China welcomed foreign investments and became a contractor supplying labour. As a result, China today has become a massive industry producing for the entire world. Once she started doing excessive production, it became mandatory for her to look for foreign market and undertook ambitious projects to connect herself with the entire world through sea roads or roads. China invested the excessive funds as capital in foreign countries and envisaged the dream of her economic expansion by being connected with neighbour countries using sea routes and roads. Though China is a large country resembling to a subcontinent, it had no sea route other than the South East shore to its disposal. Therefore, she joined hands with her old ally Pakistan and invested funds in development of basic infrastructure there. As of now, China has invested a whopping 56 billion dollars in Pakistan alone. She has undertaken the work of building road from China to Arabian Sea. She has built Gwadar port near Karachi and plans to not only connect it with China but also further to develop roads to link Central Asia and Russia with it. This project, which superficially appears to be a scheme to expand Chinese economy, is actually intended to corner India from all sides.
When all this started, India was witnessing political instability. The government was mired in internal conflicts to such an extent that the rulers had no time and energy left to think of foreign interests of India. Preparations and fortification to counter aggressive tendencies of China had begun in the eastern theatre during the Vajpayee regime. Except for Kolkata and Assam in the Eastern theatre, the remaining North East part of India was lying neglected. No development plan had been chartered while giving due consideration to that region. For the first time, steps were taken in that direction during the rule of Vajpayee government. To achieve development in that region, contemplation of connecting India with countries on its east and the South East Asian countries began. Consequently, the idea of building a road to connect India with Myanmar and Thailand evolved. Today work is in full swing on that concept but for fifteen years ever since Vajpayee government was dethroned the project was grossly neglect. Further Extension of the road further to link Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam was also contemplated. Connecting the North East India mainland India is a tough job. However, if the trade and commerce between India and countries on its east starts through North East India, there is no doubt that the North East region of India, which has remained backward to the date, will prosper speedily as the small countries on that side have already achieved their development. These countries have already expanded their economies using the capital coming their way from America. If they start trade and commerce with India through the North Eastern region of India, that would open new doors to the development of the hilly and remote areas. The only question is why the North East region of India was never envisaged as the North Eastern gateway until then. Why no such attempt was made until Vajpayee came to the power? If roads make the people self-reliant, how much contribution can the international roads make to the prosperity of India and its various regions?
China’s motive behind developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan is to connect its backward western region to the world directly. However, it would also be able to use the port to deploy its navy in the Arabian Sea, right at the doorstep of India. India too has similar interests. The highways which are to extend up to Thailand and Vietnam while ushering in development in North East India are slated to provide relief to the countries frustrated with the one-upmanship of China. These countries desire to develop friendly relations with country like India, which is as powerful and strong as China. That is why this highway is a project not only of commercial and economic importance.
It will also provide relief to many South Asian countries suppressed by China besides resulting in fortification of India from security point of view.
Not stopping at this, while Modi government has implemented the ‘Look East’ policy in full swing ever since it came to the power, it has also not failed to pay attention towards the west. That is why one finds Modi government’s attempt to build a network of roads from the European countries to the east of America to the South Asian countries to the west of America astonishing. While the work of building the highway in the South East Asia is going on in full swing, India’s successful move to join hands with Iran in the west and develop Chabahar port has left not only China, but also Pakistan stunned. The move of developing this single port itself has defeated China’s 56 billion dollar investment in Pakistan because with India developing the Chahabar port, China’s dream of extending the highway build adjacent to the port further to the countries in Central Asia and East Europe has shattered. India has also begun strategic use of the port even before making a formal announcement of its intention. Although the highway was not planned by India, it has made it easy for her to reach out to Europe.
The competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia for leadership in West Asia began after 1980. Hell-bent on cornering Saudi Arabia, the rulers of Iran had chalked out an ambitious plan with the help of Afghanistan, Russia and other countries in Central Asia. Iran’s plan was to develop Chabahar port on South coast of Iran in the gulf of Oman and build a highway right up to Russia through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. She has even signed agreements with the countries concerned for the purpose. However, the work on the plan came to a grinding halt during the Taliban regime. The government that came to rule in Afghanistan after America overthrew the Taliban regime later on did not want interference of Pakistan in its affairs. That government too desired to use a seaport. The Chahabar port project got a major thrust due to these circumstances. India was involved in various development and renewal projects that were launched in Afghanistan after Taliban rule was overthrown. Indian companies and their workforces were implementing projects of constructing highways and undertaking other development works on the Baluchistan border. Taking advantage of this, Iran involved India in its ambitious plan. The initial moves in this direction were made while the UPA government was in rule. However, after Modi government came to the power, the project got priority and construction of the port was completed in a few years. Moreover, India also commenced its use at primary level a couple of months ago. Some ships carrying lakhs of tonnes of wheat produced in India reached the port and from there the wheat was taken to Afghanistan for distribution among people there. This means, now with the availability of Chahabar port, Afghanistan and America no more need the Karachi port in Pakistan to procure the provisions for that region. What would be the importance of Gwadar port under such circumstances?
The highway that connects the Chabahar port has been built by Iran indigenously. It winds up its way right up to Russia and Europe through Afghanistan. Once the small sea voyage from Chahabar to the Indian port of Kandla is travelled, entire land route from Europe to Vietnam will now come under dominance of India. By involving in developing Chahabar port, India remains in a position to control it effectively. Besides, the land route from Kandla right up to Thailand has been envisaged by India. Obviously, this situation puts India in a position to dominate the commercial transport between Europe and South Asia. To bring this vision into reality, India would develop the network of roads and highways in this region. That would certainly a major deterrence for the ambition of China. Investments in such plans superficially appear to be investments of economic or commercial nature but actually, they are strategically associated with the security. The distance between Chahabar to the leading Indian commercial port of Mumbai is just 1,400 kilometres. Once that distance is travelled, land route is used to travel rest of the distance. The distance between Chahabar port and Kandla port in Gujarat is much less than that between Chahabar and Kandla, almost half of it. This means, except for six to seven hundred kilometres of sea route, Europe and South East Asia can be connected with each other by land route. As the number of countries and companies using this route will grow, India’s influence will also grow. Such factors will place India in a dominating position with respect to her foreign policy, security and many other aspects. In fact, by rapidly developing Chahabar port, India has already made a major achievement in defeating the intentions of China and investments made for that. If we can observe increased influence of India worldwide, the reason behind it is not personal charisma of Prime Minister Modi but his strategy and geo-political moves made by him over the last four years.
One looking at the situation superficially would not notice importance of such roads. In our country, more importance is attached to troubles caused by China in Doklam or Ladakh and a clamor starts on the issue. However, nobody puts his head to find out as to why China has suddenly started indulging in such mischief, what has made her impatient to such an extent. A short while back, China made special efforts. It called on Asian and other countries to put forth its vision of One Region One Road (OBOR). India had refused to participate in it. Some pro-Pakistan elements and well-wishers of China in India risked offending the government and attended the OBOR conference. The Government neither deterred them from attending the conference, nor did it paid any heed because the conference was organised with the intention of defeating India’s own unannounced OBOR plan. The strategy that China spoke of has been actually implemented by India. Resultant, China has become undermined in some aspects despite having more money or capital infrastructure at its disposal. The network of roads envisaged by India is slated to put her in a position to dominate not only China but almost all developed nations having commercial interests. Such is the magnanimity of the proposed road.
Land transport can be safer and faster than the transport by sea or areal routes and the areas in which road networks have been developed reap their benefits. India, with its vast geographical expanse resembling to a continent, lays at the centre of the network of roads that will connect areas right from Europe to Vietnam. Who will get maximum benefits if its roads are used for transport? Under such circumstances, security of India is directly related to the security of trading and commercial activities of her neighbouring countries and any country that poses a threat to the security of India will automatically become enemy of even the enemy countries of India. After all, roads not only pave way for development but also ensure security.