Monday, March 14, 2005

Kolkata 4 Dhaka 2

In this high scoring football match, we are deep into the second half. Dacca had taken the lead early on in 1971, becoming a capital city of an independent nation. 0-1.
Calcutta didn’t show much creativity in the seventies and made no attempts on our goal. They however came back into the match when Dhaka (as it changed its name) scored an own goal in the eighties, discarding English, failing to make Dhaka an attractive place for investment and becoming a foreign aid junkie. 1-1.
Kolkata also liked to ‘partake’ but Dhaka didn’t know when to say NO.
Early in the second half (otherwise known as the nineties), Kolkata went ahead as it solved its electricity problem. 2-1.
No longer would it be infamous for hours of load shedding. Dhaka took to blackouts with relish.
Kolkata then went further ahead as it invested in its transport infrastructure. An Underground metro. Flyovers. 3-1.
Dhaka’s manager delighted in the increasing traffic jams and told his players the tailbacks signified progress, like in Bangkok!
Without any help from the manager, Dhaka got a goal back, with the rise of the ready-made-garments industry, making it 3-2.
Here was something new and different. More than a million women were beavering away in Dhaka’s factories. Dhaka was earning dollars, not just getting them from the donor ‘fix’.
Kolkata however spoilt the mood with their late surge in the IT sector and the re-establishment of a wide range of heavyweight industries in and around Kolkata. 4-2.
With the score now at 4-2, the Dhaka crowd is getting anxious. Can they get two goals back to level the match? Victory seems a long way away as our defence could quite easily score some more own goals. One wonders if they have been bribed.
Nothing is impossible and there have been some great comebacks. After the war, South Korea was in tatters. All the industry was in North Korea. However, within a generation, South Korea won the match by a mile. Ireland also came from nowhere and now has a greater GDP per person than its rival, UKay. Germany did the same to the UKay too in the seventies.

Is Kolkata really ahead of Dhaka?
In many ways, yes. They have an underground metro. We don’t. They have over a more than 15 flyovers. We have one, soon to be only two. They have a vast industrial sector that dwarfs ours. They have a Special Economic Zone. We are at the stage of learning what that is. They are better educated. Kolkata has a vibrant IT sector. IBM and other multinationals have set up shop in Kolkata. English is widely spoken. There, not here. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) or the transfer of white-collar jobs from the West to lower cost India is happening in Kolkata, not just Bangalore. IT design, call centres and the rest. We are merely talking about it in seminars. They are doing it. They hardly ever suffer power-cuts and export electricity to other states. We have load shedding all through the year. Our cost of living is soaring across the board.
We are decimating our jute and sugar industries. As we close down a factory, they open one in the same sector on their side of the border.
It looks like the old nightmare economic relationship of an Industrial West Bengal and a rural East Bengal is reappearing. After all that sacrifice and all those high hopes.
However, there are one or two bright spots. We have converted more vehicles to CNG, so reducing our pollution levels. We have a ready-made-garments industry, employing a million people in the Dhaka region. They will, however, convert to CNG very soon and we have now lost our garments quota advantage.

In the eighties, Calcutta was at its nadir. It was famous for Mother Teresa, the City of Joy and Geoffrey Moorhouse’s unflattering book on the city. Business houses left in droves, frustrated by the power cuts, unionism and strikes. The Left came into power in 1967 and went to work in the villages, neglecting ‘bourgeois’ Kolkata. India was still mired in the licence raj system. Calcutta and West Bengal had one time accounted for 25% of entire India’s industrial output. That steadily declined as industrialists closed and relocated to Mumbai.
Dhaka meanwhile was in its second decade as the capital of an independent state. Though regarded as a backwater and unstable after a series of political upheavals and military coups in the 70s, it at least had a chance. Pollution was unknown. Law and order was ‘normal’. One could move from one end of the city to another with relative ease. The ready-made-garments industry had just been established, ahead of many other later competitors. Vietnam and the rest hadn’t got off the blocks yet.
With Calcutta on the slide, and Rangoon, Thimpu, & Kathmandu still asleep, Dhaka looked the most attractive in this region. Or at least had the potential to do so. No one had heard of Kunming. China was only getting started. The eighties were our lost decade, where we could have stolen a march on the rest.

A hole-in-the-middle?
Given our dependence on donors, we cannot forget to mention them. By chance, I happened to be speaking to a senior aid official recently. He described donor policies towards Dhaka as ‘the-hole-in-the-middle’ approach. I.e. donors were so geared to poverty reduction in the villages, they forgot that Dhaka was on the way to becoming the fourth largest city in the world. They are all neglecting the capital city, which is thus growing like a hydra in all directions, without any planning. The industrial, financial, property and service sector machine operates, or rather sputters in the capital region. Focusing some attention on Dhaka may bring quick returns and save the city from a disaster in ten years’ time. Investing in Dhaka would bring national economic benefits.

Can we get back in the match?
We set ourselves very low targets, lacking ambition. Making such a fuss over one tiny flyover in Mohakhali says it all.

To score three goals, we must:
· Create an affordable mass public transport system, for people and not just the private car. That allows poor people to commute from distance and not have to live in slums
· Set up local gas-based power generation plants to solve the load-shedding problem, thus boost our industrial growth and attractiveness for investment.
· Reduce the cost of living, especially of essential items by bringing order to the out-of-control racket of a handful of big players, taking a cut on every turn.

To score the winner, we must persuade the aid agencies to actively support the re-invigoration of Dhaka. They will have to do a lot more on financing basic housing, improving slum conditions, water quality, flood control, health clinics, waste management, and energy efficiency. Beautifying the city by focusing on basic needs will bring much more dividends than chrome-coloured dividers.

Will we win the match? The heart says we just might. The brain says we haven’t a hope in hell.
Unless, that is, we find new managers. Unless, we replace the fading, older stars with the best from our youth team.


Blogger someone else said...

As an ABCD with roots in Kolkata and *gulp* Howrah, I loved this post. A little healthy competition is all good :)

My real interest, though, is in how to get to a point where we can bring closer social and economic ties among bangalis. For example, the banga sammelan that's happening in New York this year is ridiculous--it's a hindu indian upperclass/middleclass thing that does so little to incorporate the bangladeshi community in this bangladeshi city, let alone the muslim bangali community, etc.


7:33 am  
Blogger Great Saint said...

I am from Kolkata, people here are busy comparing themselves more with Delhi and Mumbai and even Bangalore these days, never thought of comparing Kolkata with Dhaka.

Kolkata might be ahead of Dhaka but it has miles and miles to go.

I feel Bangladesh is pretty close to our hearts, and Language anyday beats Religion.And bengalis (both East and West) in the last century could not understand this true fact.

Bengalis all around the world should build bridges of social and economic friendship, and the hatred politics should go ...

Like what East and west Punjab is doing .. so should east and west bengal do.

2:46 pm  
Anonymous Diponkor Sen said...

I recently been to Dhaka. IMHO in terms of quality of life, number of high rise buildings and air pollution they are much better than us.

2:03 pm  
Anonymous Diponkor Sen said...

If you don't want to accept opposite views then what's the point of opening this blog. I hope you will not remove this post for telling the truth.

1:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really cannot agree that Kolkata is ahead of Dhaka..i have been to both cities several times and Dhaka is definitely a million times better not only than kolkata,but also than madras,bangalore.

4:22 am  
Blogger neeraj said...

Really liked your post. But I dont think there's any point in debating which is a better city. When many western cities are far more developed and people there are much more happy with their life. Won't it be better that we concentrate on bettering our life standards, working on bettering lifes of the poor.

I really believe concentrating more on getting people of the place happy and helping them living a healthy and comfortable life is much more important.

And another thing should be noted is that How do we associate development with high rise buildings etc. I really believe when people are happy , have access to basic amenities and there's food for the poor then only we can be called a developed society.

So, better we concentrate on bettering life's of our people than debating on these issues.

5:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a one of a kind post. Googled Dhaka to Kolkata and hit an article on a train service and this. Excellent. Thanks for the post. Given that we Calcuttans are treated like poor cousins by the rest of India it is only a matter of time when we start holding hands and looking east. I think in the area of arts ("our" last hold) we beat the Dhaka bashis as well. Or do we? Well for one Dhaka doesnt have vibrant film scene. Bangla Bands that's own goal for Kolkata (phaka mathe goal marchey is an oft mentioned comment here) - Dhaka has produced an Arnab and we havent. Dhaka has a huge book fair Ekushey Book Fair to rival Kolkata. Quality of life. Hmm...we are both wrecks trying to out do each other.

8:23 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i guess dhaka doesnt have that much industry like kolkata but we have it in Chittagong port city.. and fly over and undergournd train doesnt say every thing.. we need to see the way dhaka is growing.. its very close to beat kolkata.. ill say 3.5 - 4 but kolkata is one of the biggest.. and oldest but i guess dhaka is becoming more corporate and modern city.. give it 5 yrs.. u can see huge difference..

1:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the comparison is one sided and a person who hasn't visited both the cities will end up thinking Kolkata is way more advanced than Dhaka.

I have personally been to Dhaka,Kolkata as well as Bangalore.

Some things that were not considered here:

1) Dhaka's roads are much wider and cleaner than Kolkata's. This compensates for a lack of subway at this point.

2)Dhaka has the largest Shopping mall in South Asia "Bashundhara city". Next year the 4th largest mall in the world "Jamuna Mall" is opening up, which has multiple theatres, children's park, etc. The fact that it's larger than Mall of America or Dubai Mall says it all.. Such huge entertainment facilities are not present in Kolkata.

3)Diversity of Restaurants. There are numerous upscale Thai,Mexican to Turkish restaurants in Gulshan/Banani area. Which I did not find in Kolkata.

4)Skyscrapers, no comparison here. Not just Kolkata but Bangalore also doesn't come close to Dhaka on this. Only Mumbai in South Asia is comparable.

5) Cultural/historical site. Kolkata has more of Victorian area structures while Dhaka has more Mughal Structures. So the historical sites are different in kind...

6) National Assembly complex. Louis Kahn's work is impressive and unique.

7:48 am  
Anonymous sukanya said...

KOLKATA HAS METRO RAILS AND UNDER GANGES METRO AND SKY RAIL LIKE JAPAN .........WEST BENGAL HAS D 3RD HIGHEST GDP SHARE IN D COUNTRY. WOMEN LITERACY IS FAR AHEAD OF BANGLADESH AND OVERALL TOO ALOS.Kolkata GDP is 3 times more than dakha what else to say . der r infinite points in favour of us Chinese Investment direct flow Chinese support and nw west bengal is at 3rd position in the country at GDP growth rate .

7:59 pm  
Anonymous Kolkata SEO said...

I liked that, your blog its nice. Keep it up beautiful work.

11:45 am  
Anonymous avisek said...

Kolkata consider its self to china relatives no daccas . West bengal is one of the richest states on d country
And dacca people are jst considered poor cousins .

12:07 am  

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