For cosmopolitans in India’s big cities, Indore is a backwater. But the fact is Indore city has grown four or five-fold since 1968 and become quite dynamic as a centre of educational entrepreneurship, medicine, engineering, machine industry, and commerce. It has also developed a vibrant civil society and women’s movement. Indore illustrates the way modernization is taking hold not only in the burgeoning information technology centres of Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad, but in more remote parts.
I had a flavour of this transformation from a return visit to Indore after 40 years. In 1968, my doctoral research was based on Indore’s history and contemporary political life. It was clear that there were two main reasons Indore was a flourishing commercial and administrative centre, connected by railway to Delhi and Mumbai, attracting merchant migrants and capital from Gujarat and Rajasthan and policemen and labourers from northern India. The first was the Marathi-speaking patronage offered by the Holkar dynasty, which built Indore as its capital in the 18th century. The second was British protection in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cotton and cloth-weaving mills came up and Indore became an important textile centre. Key educational institutions were established for the affluent, including Holkar Science College in 1891 and Indore Christian College in 1887. Both were the early components of what would become Indore University. The British established Daly College in 1882 as a prep school “for princes” in the colonial annexe of the city known as the Residency.
The city i surveyed in 1968 after a long rail journey from Delhi was indeed a bit of a backwater. Its population was about half-a-million. Horse-drawn tongas vastly outnumbered auto taxis at the railway station. The Holkar patrons had migrated with their residual wealth to Bombay, or immmigrated to New York, and the Holkar palaces and parks were falling into disrepair. The Jain-and-Agarwal-run textile mills were still functioning but beginning to go down hill because they were only marginally profitable. The municipal corporation seemed lethargic, barely aware of Patrick Geddes town plan of 1918. Only the cloth and grain markets and the bazaars hummed, two Hindi newspapers were vigorous exponents of rival political factions, and suburban housing colonies and light industry development were beginning to sprout along the trunk roads. At the time, public resources were being diverted to building a modern state capital in Bhopal.
Forty years on, I arrived at Indore’s quaint pink and ochre stucco airport. It was refurbished some 10 years ago but is already obsolete for the surging volume of passenger traffic on private airlines. One cannot help but be struck by the mushrooming of large office buildings, modern hotels, neon-lit shopping centres, and institutional campuses along the now-widened main roads. One cannot help but notice the enormous volume of traffic. Indore has a whole new energy, with a population of at least two million. There are many signs of a new affluence, including the chaos of vehicles on the road. The abandoned hulks of textile mills still dominate some localities but new forms of agro-processing, machine-working and metal industry have appeared. A major factory producing diesel engines has been set up in Indore. A 15-mile drive away in Pithampur, government subsidies have enabled automotive manufacturing industries to concentrate. “Dry port” container shipment mechanisms for overseas export have been set up there as well, drawing new constellations of white-collar managers, engineers, and blue-collar workers.
But the most impressive transformation is the mushrooming of educational institutions and emergence of an active women’s movement. In 2009, Indore’s literacy rates were reportedly 95% for males and 84% for females, well above the national averages and an extraordinary jump from the past. These are signs of fundamental change in a city where the main social forces of innovation have shifted from the traditional elites to a very strong and politically active middle class.
Indore is India’s only city to have both an IIM and a recently started IIT. Indore is now an engine of education and exporter of technical and management skills that already vibrate in India. In all likelihood, it will soon have a discernible impact abroad, perhaps initially in business education.
Rodney W Jones is an expert on international security and South Asian development issues
Date: 13th December 2009
Source: Times of India.