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Following in the footsteps of Mahalanobis

  • Published at 07:00 pm January 16th, 2019
footsteps of Mahalanobis
Photo: Bigstock

This Bengali scientist has a lot to teach us about industrialization

The dust has settled, and now it is time to implement the future development plans promised by the new government. Industry and agriculture are important to the developing economies, preparing nations for their next stage of growth and wealth creation. And Bangladesh is no exception.

Bangladesh took off with almost 8% growth, and it remains to be seen in few years’ time how it lands, soft or hard. As we know, economies run in cycles: Expansionary, peak, and contractionary. Policy-makers want to keep expanding as long as possible without any interruption.

Economists are of the view that historically, the now OECD nations took almost 200 years to reach peak, but China took only 30-40 years to reach this level, and is still climbing with 6% to 7% growth.

The OECD nations and China went in opposite directions: The former went slow and the latter went big. Historically, the nations which had experienced industrial revolutions also saw two great wars in the 20th century, and before that, they were at war between themselves and their colonies. There was growth, but slow and steady. 

Finally, post-WWII Japan and Germany, two defeated forces, took the lead to become industrialized with the support of the winners of the war, in particular, the US. 

On the other hand, the colonies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America at last got freedom from the clutches of centuries-old colonial masters. The newly industrialized countries (NICs) of East and Southeast Asia went for the big bang. 

With all these in mind, people are already talking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly India. Initially, it faced hardships, but India is now on the the pathway to prosperity. India’s economic journey began, in fact, with the vision of one Prasanta Chandra  Mahalanobis, an Indian scientist and applied statistician. 

He founded the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in Kolkata, and contributed to the design of large-scale sample surveys. In later life, Mahalanobis was a member of the planning commission and contributed prominently to newly independent India’s five-year plans starting from the mid-1950s. 

In the second five-year-plan, he emphasized industrialization on the basis of a two-sector model, which worked towards the rapid industrialization of India. In the 1950s, Mahalanobis played a critical role in the campaign to bring India its first digital computers.

It is also known that, with the creation of ISI in Kolkata, he approached the then prime minster of India Jawaharlal Nehru, and said that if India were to become industrialized, it needed to produce hundreds and thousands, if not millions, of technical and skilled workers.

The Nehru government in 1952 accepted this proposal and established Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in almost all forward-looking state capital cities. At present, the IITs of India are known worldwide, and the engines of India’s progress over the last 50 years were graduates from IITs. 

Currently, cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai are the genuine IT hubs of the world. The products of IIT migrated to the US to work and led the start-ups at Silicon Valley. 

It was Mahalanobis’s vision 60 years back, which well and truly began India’s industrialization. The time has come for Bangladesh to learn from this fellow Bangalee’s vision by providing every upazila with technical education institutes to enrich the skills of the youth. 

Moazzem Hossain is a reverse migrant and a contributor to the Dhaka Tribune.

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