Dammed it you dont: The hydraulic origins of the divergence between the Raj, India and Pakistan

By Vikram 55 Comments

Historians have put forth the the idea that complex political states originated as ‘hydraulic empires’, a need for ancient societies to manage vast water systems. Governments have evolved from their ancient origins to do a lot more beyond managing water. However, we shall see in this post that attitudes towards water can lead to important differences in the evolution of spatially and temporally adjacent political entities.

In terms of hydrology and geology, there are striking contrasts between the Indo-Gangetic plain and peninsular India. The Indo-Gangetic plain is drained by perennial rivers, fed by both Himalayan glaciers and monsoonal precipitation. Peninsular India, on the other hand, is drained only by monsoon-fed seasonal rivers. Geologically, the Indo-Gangetic plain is blessed with alluvial soil which is both fertile and holds groundwater. Peninsular India is composed of harder rocks, which leads to more runoff and less groundwater retention. Water has always been a much harder challenge in peninsular India than the Gangetic plain.

The British Raj and its successor state of India, had vastly different attitudes towards the hydro problems of peninsular India. However, the Raj’s successor state of Pakistan never had to deal with the water challenges of peninsular India. Pakistan remained agriculturally more productive per worker than India till 2017. India had to construct 5264 medium and large dams (compared to Pakistan’s 150) to overtake Pakistan on that count. A side effect was an advanced industrial and technical base.

We first discuss the dam policy of the British Raj, which is known for its investments in railways and canals. A striking rarity in the Raj’s impressive portfolio of grand infrastructure projects are mega dams. It is not that the British did not build significant water-works in India, but these were overwhelmingly barrages and canal irrigation projects. And the absence of large dams was not due to a lack of technical expertise, indeed, elsewhere in the empire, (notably Canada and Australia), British engineers pioneered the techniques that underlie the construction of modern, large scale dams.

So what explains the Raj’s dam reluctance in their richest canvas ? It is likely that the politics of British India underlies the inhibition towards dams. The centre of gravity of the British Indian empire was the Indo-Gangetic plain. It was the most populated region, the region which produced the most recruits for the British Indian army and the region they really needed to manage. And this region did not need dams. The large dams the British built were mainly in deep South India, the largest dam there was a project conceived by the king of Mysore, Krishnaraja Wodeyar.

The modern day Republic of India found itself in a very different political situation. The elites of peninsular India were organized and had the numbers to match their Gangetic counterparts. Prime minister Nehru, although Gangetic, was deeply influenced by the economic philosophy of the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union was a master of building mega dams. A massive dam building project ensued, all across India. In the Gangetic plain, this meant increased agricultural yields, but in peninsular India, the dams were a game-changer. Vast tracts of land in Madhya Pradesh were brought under productive cultivation. Interior Maharastra developed a sugarcane belt. Gujarat has become a leader in cotton, tobacco and groundnuts.

Equally important, dams made large cities viable outside the Gangetic plain. Dams and their reservoirs are the only reason the nascent urban centres of peninsular India (Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) could become the dynamic mega-cities they are today. In contrast, Gangetic plain cities continue to get their water from the perennial rivers that they are set on (Delhi-Yamuna, Lucknow-Gomti, Patna-Ganges, Kolkata-Hooghly and so on).

It is conceivable that the extreme importance of large dams and water management structures pushed India’s post-independent elites to invest heavily into engineering education. The public and private enterprises in charge of dam construction, irrigation boards, and hydroelectric machinery provided employment for the labour produced by these elite institutes. These projects thus serviced the needs and aspirations of both urban elites and the vast rural voting masses.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s situation was quite different. With the exception of Islamabad, Pakistan’s cities get their water in the same way Gangetic Indian cities do, surface water and ground water. Developing state-of-the-art water management technology was never an imperative for the Pakistani elite.

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55 Replies to “Dammed it you dont: The hydraulic origins of the divergence between the Raj, India and Pakistan”

  1. Interesting POV;
    “Prime minister Nehru, although Gangetic, was deeply influenced by the economic philosophy of the Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet Union was a master of building mega dams. A massive dam building project ensued, all across India.”
    How do you view the mega projects of India – Bhakra Dam, controversy over Sardar Sarovar & other giant dams;
    — There is environmental and (slight) engineering arguments against large dams due to inefficiencies; large silting (Ujani in Solapur being a prime example) and comparatively higher displacement of Forest/Agri lands – I dont know what to make of them yet

    1. In India, most regions outside the Gangetic plain would be unlivable (beyond a single crop) without large dams. This is a tropical region with a defined wet season, and gets nearly all its water in a very short period of time. Without storing that water, we cant have large settlements outside the Gangetic plain.

      Pre-industrialization, India outside UP, Bihar and Bengal was very sparsely populated.

      1. “Pre-industrialization, India outside UP, Bihar and Bengal was very sparsely populated.”

        Could you provide some sources to back this
        (I am sceptical of this as I had read about some european’s account of the Vijaynagar Empire and it said that it was densely populated)

        1. The best source would have been this site: populstat.info. It had data since 1850 and that really showed how much more populated the Gangetic plain was.

          For the 1871 data, see here: https://ruralindiaonline.org/library/resource/memorandum-on-the-census-of-british-india-of-1871-72/#:~:text=The%20Memorandum%20on%20the%20Census,civil%20servant%20of%20that%20era.&text=The%20Census%20surveyed%20the%20population,location%20(rural%20or%20urban).

          The Indo-Gangetic units (Punjab, NW provinces, Oude and Bengal) constitute nearly 60% of the population.

  2. By pt was more small/medium dams vs large dams.(not dams vs monsoon farming)

    “Pre-industrialization, India outside UP, Bihar and Bengal was very sparsely populated.”
    But even today the population density difference in Gangetic plain/Indus plain vs outside is very substantial different with UP/Bihar/WB being 2X more than ROI.
    Ofcourse these things r also correlated inversely with education & dev.

    (I am sceptical of this as I had read about some european’s account of the Vijaynagar Empire and it said that it was densely populated)
    Yeah – Doab has historically been more populated than Godavari, Narmada , Kaveri, Krishna valleys but i by How much is up for debate – Is there any good literature on that ? I don’t think (intuitively based on historical empires – WKshtrapas, Satavahanas, Vakatakas, 3 southern kingdoms, vijayanagar) that it would be very sparsely populated viz – World average.

      1. Bhimrao, the importance of dams depends on the characteristics of the region. Productive agriculture and large mega cities are not viable in tropical regions without dams. Btw, even NY and LA get their water from dams.

        Also, the challenges of these mass engineering projects is what spurs the development of a technical workforce.

        1. Somewhat related thought:
          Technical workforce training used to be very true maybe 50 years ago but not so much anymore. I know a lot of people from UP PWD and Irrigation department who are veterans of the massive dam building that is going on in Bundelkhand. Unlike waterworks in the US/Netherlands, our sarkaari engineers believe in copy paste and very conservative, borderline primitive, design. They are obviously reasonably skilled (except in road building) but not really the people who can take things to the next level.
          Functional yes, innovative? not really.
          Same is the case with railways, almost all Indian railways engineers are dull as dirt, they can get the job done but don’t care about doing it very well. Examples are the uninspired and wateful trusses at railway stations, poorly planned overpasses, jarring underpasses, ugly civil works etc. These simple things have so much room for elegant designs but somehow everything ends up looking shabby and second rate. Some exceptions exist, for example all the railway stations in West Bengal have thes beautiful mosaics, shows some heart and passion in the leadership of SE Railways.
          Last year I saw the new trusses over the platforms at New Delhi Railway station. One look and it was clear that they designed it so that the civil contractor/fabricator, who get paid by weight of iron used, can make shitload of money.

          1. Lol you have a lot of disdain for civil engineers.
            Elegance in structural engineering is a sin but architects harp about it all the time due to calculus-envy 😄. Come hear about all the durability problems in North American codes and nobody to this day understands well enough how fatigue works in bridge elements. (Don’t have money to NDE fatigue cracks for bridges like they do for planes). Given construction quality control in India and having no money for maintenance, I don’t think steel weight or truss elegance is what you want to care about ahead of service life and safety.

            /start rant

            I don’t agree with all this rhetoric about dams being bad because they will be silted at some point. If that’s the case there should be no solar or wind turbines given the laughably short service life of those. It’s not like there aren’t any approaches to de-silt the dams either.

            People act as if wind turbines don’t restrict land usage, bird migrations, or navigation. It pisses me off to no end that hydroelectric is demonized when a dam can be built with literal dirt while wind turbines need composites to even be made. Nobody tells us what large volume recycling of photovoltaic cells looks like either except to provide metrics for how much sunlight hits the earth🙄

            /end rant

          2. “Lol you have a lot of disdain for civil engineers.”

            There are just three kinds of engineering: Civil, Mechanical and Electrical, strictly in that order of importance. I am like an over-enthusiastic under-informed fan from a different field who can sometimes sound critical, like instrument-player commenting-on singing.

            “Elegance in structural engineering is a sin but architects harp about it all the time due to calculus-envy 😄.”

            I just worry about livability and likeability of our cities. I was floored the first time I looked at Tokyo from Rainbow bridge. I had never seen anything like it and it affected me deeply, almost like the first time I sat on an airplane and looked at clouds from above, just magical! look at what these (other) people are capable of. I was thinking “These guys are just amazing” I am not sure about how to articulate it clearly but livability seems to deeply affect people. In Lucknow I had visited massive 100s of millions USD public parks with giant Mayawati statues and they looked so ugly it seemed Indian architects/planners were a lesser people in a racist sort of way. B-rung British architects in far off places built more pleasing things even a century ago. I want that to change, some good things are happening, like the new metro pillars are all pre-casted, slender and smooth. Good architecture and planning does inspire people.

            “Come hear about all the durability problems in North American codes and nobody to this day understands well enough how fatigue works in bridge elements. (Don’t have money to NDE fatigue cracks for bridges like they do for planes). Given construction quality control in India and having no money for maintenance, I don’t think steel weight or truss elegance is what you want to care about ahead of service life and safety.”

            I had a professor in India who was putting some rfid type small sensors, that would get energy from vibrations, into railway bridges to do some NDE, btw lately I have been seeing so many civil engineering research people work on slightly modified ready made computer vision libraries and drones etc to do inspection of civil structures. Also a lot of underwater inspection startups for oil rigs. I agree that in India it is best left to brute force design as the maintenance is bound to be subpar just cast the damn ceiling in iron at Mordor ironworks like our primitive railway bogeys.

            “I don’t agree with all this rhetoric about dams being bad because they will be silted at some point.”

            I think to some degree siltation is avoidable with under sluices, don’t know the numbers though. btw check this out
            https://www.usbr.gov/newsroom/newsrelease/detail.cfm?RecordID=71683

            “If that’s the case there should be no solar or wind turbines given the laughably short service life of those. It’s not like there aren’t any approaches to de-silt the dams either.”

            I think the clear environment and people friendly choice is Nuclear(well negotiated i.e. cheap, western designs far away from population centers) but no one listens to me 🙂 . Also, without dams who will prevent the floods/droughts?

            “People act as if wind turbines don’t restrict land usage, bird migrations, or navigation. It pisses me off to no end that hydroelectric is demonized when a dam can be built with literal dirt while wind turbines need composites to even be made.”

            I don’t have numbers but maintenance of those big turbine blades, flexing and bending in all sorts of ways would not be cheap either.

            “Nobody tells us what large volume recycling of photovoltaic cells looks like either except to provide metrics for how much sunlight hits the earth🙄”
            Exactly and also emissions per unit energy produced over lifetime. Nuclear needs its own Elon Musk.

          3. Violet
            That’s why I take environmentalists with a grain of salt
            but i do find some of the criticisms of large dams valid – though no solution is provided from the opposite side which seems workable. (Apart from smallish dams)

            Bhimrao,
            What r your opinion of Biofuels as the alternative for energy.
            Intuitively I can see only Hydro, Biofuel-ish (Palm oil And|Or other mechanisms) & Nuclear as truly effective and sustainable; but I am not at all well read in any of those things but I find the scramble for Lithium potentially dangerous viz politics and environment both – much more so than fossil fuels.

            And also if anyone is well read on that – views about the River linking project

          4. “What r your opinion of Biofuels as the alternative for energy.”

            Biofuels are clearly stupid too, what has to figured out is if they are as stupid as using fossil fuels. Both emit greenhouse gasses when used and to a layman like me it seems growing crops, trying new cropping patterns, water, electricity, transport etc would mean that there would be higher emissions from growing biofuels. It might be ‘sustainable’ in the same way as Charkha-Khadi or other convoluted schemes like electricity from human-powered machines is sustainable but is complicated like going around your ass to get to your elbow. In any case I will change my opinion if someone presents hard data.

            “Intuitively I can see only Hydro, Biofuel-ish (Palm oil And|Or other mechanisms) & Nuclear as truly effective and sustainable; but I am not at all well read in any of those things but I find the scramble for Lithium potentially dangerous viz politics and environment both – much more so than fossil fuels.”

            Americans use corn/sunflower oil. India has been trying to promote Jatropha and Ethanol from sugar cane. Both are troublesome and in both cases I can say if it was worthwhile without subsidies someone would have already figured out how to make profit from it. The problem with environmental people is that they will bargain and haggle over price everywhere (like everyone else) but want others to pay money for their fantasy solutions.

            “And also if anyone is well read on that – views about the River linking project”
            Would like to hear what others say. but why worry about something that ain’t going to happen?

          5. @Bhimrao,

            Structural health monitoring is a very imprecise science. The important part of a structure is not its slow loss of stiffness but sudden loss of strength (like a weld unzippering). So, measuring structural vibrations will only tell its overall change in stiffness but not precisely where or if degradation is distributed or concentrated. In any case, I am in a lecture mode after giving tutorials for couple of days. Let me not bore you with structural mechanics and dynamics, noise, measurement uncertainty, cost of inspection and trade-off in safety and uncertainty. Civil structures are inspected so rarely that all of these sound fancy but even after gobs of money in R&D by oil and gas industry, technology has its limitations.

            Elegance and quality of life is a symptom of wealth not the cause. I appreciate elegant structures as much as the next person but know up close issues even when world class construction companies are involved (think of companies that own only heavy equipment that travels around world for complicated structures).

            Agreed on the nuclear. The most energy dense other than hydrocarbons. If only Fukushima didn’t mess us all up.

    1. Doab is just one plain in the Gangetic area. The whole area is fertile drained by rivers like the Ghaghra, Kosi, Sarayu and Gomti.

      And yes, when I mentioned density, I meant a comparison between Indian regions, not a global one. The peninsular regions probably had densities comparable to pre-industrial Germany and France. Gangetic tract was more like the Netherlands.

  3. In Sri Lanka, society is arranged differently. The highest caste are farmers (Govigama/Vellala) 50% of population, and almost all other castes to were engaged in Agriculture.

    So the Kings who developed Agriculture, and built reservoirs and canals were praised in the Mahavamsa.

    In Sri Lanka From the 437BC till 12AD the Kings built huge reservoirs and so so temple/dagobas. Compare Buddhist Temples, simple and elegant but no comparison to the huge Hindu Temples and Forts in South India

    The Dry Zone, specially the Anuradhapura Polonnaruwa has been environmentally engineered from approx 400BC to the 12th Century. This area would be just scrub forest if not for the ancient reservoirs (30K of them).

    Many Indians think Sri Lanka is an haven of continuous rain. Approx 1/3 is wet zone, with rainfall like in Kerala. The rest is dry with rainfall like in Tamil Nadu. That said it its pretty much green, because of the extensive reservoirs and canals in the Dry Zone. Very evident from satellite imagery.
    (see last image)
    https://imgur.com/gallery/iypOA8o

    So Sri Lankan dry zone farmers can do 2-3 rice crops per year. About 2-4 acres will keep most comfortable.

    Dry Zone, one acre or less is not sufficient for independent living. So it will be garden veggies to supplement daily wage earnings.

    Next: Land reform and productivity

    1. I thought Govigama kings were a later development and that kings were Kshatriya even when their lines had been Buddhist for centuries.

  4. Land Reform: Tea Estates the easy study. Large above 50 acres were broken up.

    In the south (Deniyaya, Hiniduma etc) many of the Tea Estates were broken up and 2 acres was given to villagers. I personally know two families. They make about 1-2 lakhs/month. However, they have to do all the work themselves. No hired labor on avg or the gains are gone.

    70% of our tea comes from small holdings.

    To quote from

    https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—asia/—ro-bangkok/—ilo-colombo/documents/publication/wcms_654641.pdf

    “Of this, smallholders, often following a multi-crop model on landholdings of less than ten acres, cultivate about 60 per cent of the total tea land and account for more than 70 per cent of the total production. ”
    “The smallholder subsector is better off than the corporate plantation sector in terms of productivity. ”

    There was no way the hill country estates were going to be given en masse to the Estate Tamils. Racism and Political suicide. So the hill country Tea estates became Govt/State owned, and run by either the Govt entity, Janawasama or leased to Private companies like Mackwoods. The land is still owned by the state.

    There were exceptions. An estate in Katul Oya/Gomara, near Knuckles Range . 1/2 acre was given to the workers in lieu of pay. Beautiful area, a small plain adjoing the Knuckles Reserve. I tried to buy 4 adjoining plots, too expensive for me.

    The link below, has at end numbers to show
    How per Capita Income, Productivity and Growth hides rise in Inequality and Poverty.
    http://sbarrkum.blogspot.com/2019/09/lanka-land-reform-and-productivity.html

  5. Forgot to add
    The Brits had no real interest in repairing the reservoirs. That would have made the Sinhalese self sufficient.

    It was to the advantage of the Brits to have population dependent on wages. It was a two pronged policy tried and tested in the UK. (the opposite of Land reform).
    a) Marginalize small holding
    b) Take over small holdings into large capitalist enterprises.

    Result: A population that is forced in to wage labor in large capitalist enterprise.

    It did not work in Sri Lanka, because population was small (less than 2 million in 1900) and even marginal land was sufficient to make a living.

    So they had to import South Indian labor to work the tea and rubber plantations (There are parallels to immigration into the US).

    When the population exploded in after independence (12 million in 1970) there were insurrections by at least O/L educated children of rural landless poor.
    Land reform removed much of gripes of of first insurrection in 1971.

    In the North, the mainly Tamil areas, there was no land reform. The simple reason there were almost no large capitalist holdings over 50acres (or rice farms over 25 acres). So Land reform had no benefits to the landless poor in Tamil majority areas.

    The upper class and upper caste, who had agricultural land in the North, plus in the South. They made their living in the South too. However, to keep power northerners espoused separatism and pushed the children of the landless poor to insurrection. So we ended up with 30 years of war.

    1. The arguments made on these three comments are incorrect; Srilanka was neither a “happy” peasant society, nor land reform that very helpful.

      Ceylon population-land balance was upset after 50s, and the resultant land disequilibrium without increased production led to poverty, in spite of the fact that the lowland was not nonuniformly distributed. The upland was incorporated with plantations but the Sinhala labr was uninterested in plantation. Janarajana herath of mt.olive university has spent his life on this subject (“Distributional Impacts of Land Policies in Sri Lanka) and has discussed a series of 14 laws introduced by the British and the governments to develop dry land, and the land reform act of 1972 was just one of the steps. In any event there were very few large landholders in the north or south; nor the productivity of wet belt sufficient to feed the country. The government has made the inputs and price paid to farmers differential to make paddy farming an useful activity. In addition, the government has always been a net importer of rice and wheat primarily from India, Myanmar and sistributes just under a million tons a year at low prics to urban consumers. In summary, Srilankan peasntry is not in a happy state of smallholder production. repeated explosion of youth several times in the 60s, early 80s, again in the the 90s all can be related to disequilibrium between youth expectations and lack of productivity in agriculture. It is the plantation labor production, garment production, and tourism that has kept the country effort and all of this is due to capitalism.

      Ethnic rivalries cannot be explained using a marxist analysis; if it can, can Serbia, Bosnia, all of the Russian states cannot be explained. The Tamil unhappiness with economy followed the Sinhalese youth disaffection by ten years. LSSP, JVP insurrections were short and bloddy. Some 20,000 people were killed in a month, and does not fit the thesis of happy rural Srilankans.

      On a separate note, Pakistani punjab is as much a hydraulic civilization as is Indian Punjab, cauvery and Godavari delta. It is the Gangetic plain that is not a hydraulic civilization as the lack of dams in the plains

      1. Pakistani Punjab has no dams just like UP and Bihar. It is drained by perennial rivers. The few big dams in Pakistan are in Azad Kashmir and Pashtun lands.

      2. Hi Vijay,
        Glad to see you back, cheers.

        I am not sure quite how to address, so let me see if I can tease out the points.

        Ceylon population-land balance was upset after 50s
        Not sure exactly what you mean. What happened was
        a) Population explosion post independence (1948)
        b) Most of the rice, tea, rubber coconut was owned by large land owners, plus tea estates by British Companies.

        land reform act of 1972 was just one of the steps.
        Land reform fixed much of the issues and causes of the 1971 insurrection.

        large landholders in the north or south; nor the productivity of wet belt sufficient to feed the country.
        Most of the land (except maybe Jaffna) was owned by large landowners, pre 1972.
        The productive areas of rice has always been the dry zone., two thirds of the country. See Vikrams graph/chart of rice productivity taking off after 2009. Thats the end of the war and the rice farming in North and East becoming viable.
        The Wet Zone has always been geared to commercial crops, coconut, tea and rubber.

        repeated explosion of youth several times in the 60s, early 80s, again in the the 90s all can be related to disequilibrium between youth expectations
        The Tamil unhappiness with economy followed the Sinhalese youth disaffection by ten years.
        Dont know where you get the 60’s etc years.
        71 was the first insurrection in in the South. Land reform and the country was a closed economy and by default protectionist
        In the north and east farmers were minting money from sale of chillies, onions etc.

        In 1977 the West oriented govt, allowed a flood of imports. The Jaffna farmers income fell. India in turn used that disaffection to foment another insurgency. That too would have been stamped out in 1987 if not for Rajiv Gandhis intervention.

        Some 20,000 people were killed in a month
        Where did you get that number and when and where did it occur.

  6. @sbarrkum, Pakistan was more agriculturally productive than Sri Lanka till 2009 (https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&idim=country:CHN:IND:BRA&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=nv_agr_empl_kd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=world&idim=country:IND:LKA:PAK&ifdim=world&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false).

    Sri Lanka and Pakistan are remittance based economies, with no industrial base to speak of. Two hours flight away from Colombo lies a city in a dry zone, away from the coast and distant from its national capital. Its called Bengaluru and exports engineering solutions to the whole world. Investors pour in billions of dollars every year into startups there.

    Ask yourself why.

    1. Vikram

      There are two choices of economy (and variations in between)

      a) Geared to make the best of upward economy, eg investments in technology and industry

      b) Geared to resiliency when the economy falters, mainly by promoting small holder agriculture.

      Regards Pakistan I assume you know what 2009 is about.
      End of the civil war, and the North and East agricultural back in use.

      Regardless, even with a civil war and low productivity, the average Sri Lankan was better off than Indians or Pakistanis as measured by HDI, and its components.

      Now to Bengalaru
      First, the type of economy, investments in technology and industry. Ever been to Camden, Flint or any parts of the rust belt. Hollowed out towns, just full of drugs and hookers. Thats what happens when industrialization fails as is inevitable.

      Bengalaru even with its billions, does not have quality of life. Malls are not quality of life. Clean water, swimmable lakes/rivers a green environment are lacking.

      Has the billions lifted up the lives of those who are not working in IT/Technology.

      One day some other country or area in India will out compete Bengalaru. Then what happens, to Bengalaru, will it become a Detroit or a Flint.

      Another point, that day maybe near. Bengalaru to a great extent a one horse show. Most of its business is from the US, remittances if you may. There are serious doubts about the political and economic will to outsource its technology.

      Do you really think the US economy is going to recover in a year or two. What is going to happen to many of the H1B’s.

      In SL most of the people have realized it is going to be hard times. The govt has stopped imports of cars and many other “luxury” stuff. Bunkering down and reverting to agriculture.

      It will be a time when only “basic needs” will be met. Getting “wants” will at the very least be 2-3 years away.

      1. Exports and FDI from the US are not the same thing as remittances from the Gulf.

        Industrial and IT Exports imply that the technical level of the workforce is high, and FDI means good business plans and technology/practices transfer.

        1. Vikram

          Thank you very much for that rice productivity graph

          Exports and FDI from the US are not the same thing as remittances from the Gulf.

          That much like being moralistic of a prostitute selling her services, while selling knowledge is a higher calling.

          Industrial and IT Exports imply that the technical level of the workforce is high

          That was true of the US auto workers and the bethlehem steel industry.

          As they say you cant eat your technological and industrial products when the economy falters and cannot sell.

  7. The longest lasting empire in South Asia, the Cholas (1500 years from start to end) were an exceptional class of hydraulic engineers and administrators. Some of the lakes that they built qualify as inland seas. More than 1000 large lakes and around 6000 tanks dot the landscape of Tamil Nadu.

    The engineering was impressive, floodwaters and runoff would first gather in a lake, where the floatsam and debris would remain. Then a takeoff channel would take excess waters from a submerged point to another distant lake. And henceforth. The last lake would empty it’s excess to the river or the sea.

    The oldest dam in South Asia is Kallanai, built by Karikala Chola in 100 BC (perhaps). It’s still functional!! A masonry dam.

    https://www.thecivilengineer.org/online-historical-database-of-civil-infrastructure/item/382-kallanai-dam-grand-anicut

  8. Ugra,
    built by Karikala Chola in 100 BC (perhaps)
    You have a serious problem regards references.

    The link clearly states
    The Kallanai Dam is a simple check dam (Agoramoorthy and Hsu, 2008). Check dams are “small barriers using stones, cement, and concrete built across the direction of water flow on rivers to harvest rainwater in remote villages” and “are usually smaller than 15 m”

    was “[built] during the second century AD by Karikalan

    You also say
    More than 1000 large lakes and around 6000 tanks dot the landscape of Tamil Nadu.

    I hope you realize there are 30,000 reservoirs in the dry Zone of Sri Lanka. A very much smaller area than Tamil Nadu.

    Anyway, the proof is the comparison of greenery in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. On Google maps just switch to satellite view.

    1. When stones are bound together using mortar, it’s called a masonry structure. And it’s built across Kaveri and has lasted for roughly 2000 years. It’s not a trivial structure. It irrigated 70000 acres at its peak.

      1. Ugra,

        The oldest recorded reservoir in Sri Lanka Abhayavapi was built in around 400 BC. The wiki has a link to the Mahavamsa reference. It was initially a rain fed reservoir and served the city of Anuradhapura. Later on it was connected to string of reservoirs, and fed by the Jaya Ganga. The Jaya Ganga/Yodha Ela itself is a feat on engineering, with a gradient of about 10 centimetres per kilometre or 6 inches per mile

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abhayavapi
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yodha_Ela

        When stones are bound together using mortar, it’s called a masonry structure.
        Thanks, I did not know that.

        From your link
        The Kallanai in particular “is an anicut of unhewn stone that stands in the Kaveri parallel to the riverbank; it is more than 300 meters long, 20 meters wide, and 4.5 meters high”

        Compare Abhayavapi: Embankmentis 5,910 feet (1.119 mi) and height is 22 feet (6.7 m). Width of the top of the embankment is 6 feet (1.8 m) to 8 feet (2.4 m). Mind you this is not the largest of the ancient reservoirs.

        The difference between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka was that reservoir building was not a one off, but was tradition from 400BC to 1200AD. Kings (other South Indian invaders) would build reservoirs, enlarge the previous or connect thru canals.

        Proof of the pudding, the difference in greenery, even though rainfall is the same.

        Note: Jaffna does looks more like TN, because no reservoirs. Current govt is working on that a canal/anicut to take hill country (Mahaveli waters) to Jaffna.

        https://www.google.com/maps/@10.7375888,78.6440035,1361068m/data=!3m1!1e3

      1. By North India, if you mean the Haryana-Delhi-West UP belt, then yes. Economy wise, North India’s inclinations are the same as Pakistan but it is prodded by South and West India into making more of itself.

        Politics wise, the fundamental pluralism in Hinduism means democracy is genuinely a better fit in North India than Pakistan.

          1. Lol. Lets hope not. North India women could be the key here. Dont think they are looking forward to going back to wearing ghughats and so forth.

          2. Looking at South movies, i am pretty sure North India women are the key, actually to make them more like us 😛

      2. Except N. Indians and Pakistanis (the river type) are the same people divided by a religion. Sinhala and Tamil are completely different languages, a person in Madurai can’t watch parliament proceedings or make a basic sentence in Sinhala.

        1. girmit, I would agree with you if we were talking about two different religions in the Abrahamic sense. But Hinduism belongs to a different category of human thought than whatever the Abrahamic religions represent.

          The political divide is structural and has deep roots, the economic one is more contingent.

          “The British, by contrast, brought tangible development, ports and railways, that created the basis for a modern state. More important, they brought the framework for parliamentary democracy that Indians, who already possessed indigenous traditions of heterodoxy and pluralism, were able to fit to their own needs. Indeed, the very Hindu pantheon, with its many gods rather than one, works toward the realization that competing truths are what enable freedom. Thus, the British, despite all their flaws, advanced an ideal of Indian greatness.”

          https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/04/indias-new-face/307332/

          1. Vikram, perhaps, but most hindus are not swimming in the currents of ancient philosophy in any non-abstract way, nor do pakistanis have any authentic affinity to semitic culture. When you cross the wagah border, yes there are differences, the fields are not as orderly, its a bit more chaotic, you are already on the outskirts of lahore after all. What you are definitely not doing is crossing a civilizational boundary. The “same people” can be entitled to separate polities based on finer distinctions. But both sides of that border have vastly more commonality with each other than either of them have with gujarat, let alone bengal or andhra. Language churn occurs over centuries if not millennia , much slower than political arrangements and in many cases religious confession.

  9. “nor do pakistanis have any authentic affinity to semitic culture.”

    How then, would you explain the treatment of Ahmadis ? The equivalent in India would be Hindus doing the same to Jains. The remoteness of that prospect reveals the civilizational fault line.

    1. I don’t see the latter as a manifestation of being authentically semitic. What you aspire to be isn’t who you are, moreover I don’t thing pakistanis are trying to be Arab. The sunni hanafi orthopraxis is weighted indic in many ways, if they wished to be more like Saudis they would switch to something else. Although in the long run we may see no “ghar wapsi” in Pakistan, the next century may see a new world religion for all we know, or in the shorter run, Pakistan could turn back to folk Islam. Maybe Indian soft power in 2 decades will dwarf anything the Arabs do. In either case actual culture like language , clothes and food will be more salient and they will be more united with their chole bhature eating kin.
      Another thing to note. Pakistanis are essentially a vector for Indian culture. In the gulf, hindustani language has currency because of their large population. To the extent that heartland “real Hindus” from UP can go there and be accommodated linguistically. If people in Kabul can follow a bit of Hindi, it’s because of the huge return from Pakistan ‘s refugee camps. My wife and I were in Israel and we met an older local gentlemen who spoke fluent hindustani with her because he worked for years with a pakistani pathan colleague in Kuwait. He was familiar with all kinds of hindu religious customs because he started watching Indian serials without subtitles after that, lol. Mallus and Goans are not vectors for mainstream Indian culture in this way.

      1. 😂 did you just take a drive by dig at Goans and Mallus based on my pseudonym and argument with Saurav? Nick Adam is my pseudonym created back when google allowed multiple emails 😀.
        Henceforth I will switch to more appropriate pseudonym I.e. bhumiputra.

      2. I think there is a ‘gulf’ in expectations here. I wouldnt call the UAE accomodating, they have laws that prohibit conversion and the Islamic nature of the polity is repeatedly emphasized. Simply put, an Indian Hindu in UAE has to practice Hinduism quietly. An Indian Hindu male cannot marry a UAE female without converting. A UAE individual in India will face no such hindrances. There is a fundamental lack of reciprocity which is being masked by pleasantries, of course there is the economic factor as well.

        India has had a purportedly right-wing government in power for 6 years. In that time, it has passed laws the decriminalize homosexuality, give women rights to challenge summary marriage termination and pass on inheritance to their children regardless of whom they married. Pakistan, UAE and other such states, this is not even on the table.

  10. “Although in the long run we may see no “ghar wapsi” in Pakistan, the next century may see a new world religion for all we know, or in the shorter run, Pakistan could turn back to folk Islam. Maybe Indian soft power in 2 decades will dwarf anything the Arabs do.”

    Both assertion are wrong. Pakistan is actually moving more towards ‘standard’ Islam and folk Islam is dying. Its not a surprise considering as u get more educated more standardized version of religion starts taking shape. Similar 2 how folks Hinduism dies replaced by Hindutva. On 2nd front Indian soft power is exaggerated, it had more currency when Pak was still in infancy of nationhood. As the state grows mature, now a separate distinct Pakistani nation-hood with its different ‘culture’ has taken shape. It would not be Arab-ized to that extent but it wont’ be ‘Indian’ either, at least what it earlier was. No surprise there as well.

    “To the extent that heartland “real Hindus” from UP can go there and be accommodated linguistically. He was familiar with all kinds of hindu religious customs because he started watching Indian serials without subtitles after that, lol. Mallus and Goans are not vectors for mainstream Indian culture in this way.”

    I mean, finally someone who speaks English 😛

    1. the description of pakistan rings true with what i know from elsewhere.

      some of it is generational too i assume. my parents grew up in pakistan. they grew up pakistani. i don’t know that. but my kids, that’s so far away. i doubt they know my parents were once pakistani.

    2. Pakistanis loathe being associated with India. No hope till their best continue to become faujis(geostrategists), youthia (Ghamidi/faux-modernity), or ‘nazariya’ aunties and gibberish in chaste Urdu/English passes as serious intellectual discourse. A lot of trouble is because of Urdu itself, this language is very amenable to sounding cool even while saying utter nonsense.

      disclaimer: I like Urdu.

      1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity
        Sapir-Worf hypotheses is what I was thinking about while commenting about Urdu.

        I get really bothered when Pakistanis say diametrically opposite things and remain at peace, I used to think this is due to them not thinking straight. Now I know that it is the tact and ambiguity inherent in Urdu that lets someone say things like ‘You should behave but we are Islamic republic so chop-chop square’.

        A somewhat mirror image can be seen when Hindus discuss gods/godesses, ALL of them actually know it is bonkers to think that someone can fly to space or have superpowers but they can somehow really believe in this stuff. I think ideas that don’t align with a society’s behavior are not discussed enough and this leaves holes in their language/expressions/thought (or at the very least native language/thought remains weak in expressing/verbalizing those ideas). Case in point: Indian(native-Hindu) languages are so full of words, expressions, motifs for justifying vegetarianism and casteism. In both these cases you can see complete ambivalence in the US, they just don’t have deep/fine-tuned words for it simply because in case of vegetarianism they don’t want to face their own ugliness.

        Back to the point about Urdu, I think it is a aspirational language, people speaking Urdu really want to take it to next level and speak Persian. Pakistan’s national anthem almost entirely written in Persian is a prime example. The language itself has this inadequacy, restlessness in it to be more westerly, less Indian.

        1. Something else I have been thinking about is the atheist movement slowly building up in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. All these people borrow western language, western arguments, western thought when Indians have had their own arguments against God/Gibberish in teachings of Buddhism. But the words Buddhists use are not well-translatable to English so they don’t get any attention from our aping brown-anglophile atheists who prefer English above all and hence hole themselves in a Euro-centric world-view.

  11. Interwebz def has more Punjabi ethnonationalist cross border brotherhood than I have ever seen in real life. Real life, diaspora desis all just get along around my age. But the racial fetish of the common internet desi seems to make the aforementioned online phenomena occur

    This is even with the West flooded disproportionately with Khalistanis who have Pak sympathy. Real life just seems more pan desi collegial

    1. Warlock, you’re from jersey right? I know that tristate desi milieu fairly well, the level of mixing was quite thorough in my day. I wonder how much peoples perceptions here of pak are colored by comment board flame wars. Just doesn’t correspond to my experiences of them that they loathe indian culture so profoundly. If anything, I expect more friendliness from them. We might be seeing other dynamics on the street in the diaspora where paks skew more working class. And on the other end, the small but visible quasi-aristocrat paks might sneer at socially awkward indian engineers, particularly south indians whom they have little commonality with.

      1. yeah and people got along fine. Punjabis and Gujaratis especially got along. But if I say that I will get destroyed on the internet because the We wuz steppe kangz and shitz crowd will shit their pants.

  12. We wuz Harappans and shite.
    We wuz Sardars and shite.
    We wuz Arabs and shite.
    We wuz Sayyids and shite.
    We wuz Aryans and shite.

    So many complexities, so little time.

    Who will stand up for the AASI in all of us? We wuz Dravidians and shite.

  13. The diaspora really doesnt matter as much as some people here are suggesting. There are people from all over the world who visit India, invest in India and even live and work in India, and the diaspora is no longer a conduit for accessing the developed world. All in all, diaspora attitudes are in no way a good observable to understand home country attitudes when it comes to India. This trend will accelerate as people in India see that second generation Indian-Americans etc do not achieve the kind of success their immigrant parents do.

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