Economy of India

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Quotes on economic activity and policies in and of India through the ages.


Pre-1947 India[edit]

  • Indians of old were keenly alive to the expansion of dominions, acquisition of wealth, and the development of trade, industry and commerce. The material prosperity they gained in these various ways was reflected in the luxury and elegance that characterized the society... The adventurous spirit of the Indians carried them even as far as the North Sea, while their caravans traveled from one end of Asia to the other.
    • R. C. Majumdar, Ancient India, 1977, p. 210-216.
  • There was no middle state. A man must be of the highest rank or live miserably.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • Most towns in Hindustan are made up of earth, mud, and other wretched material; that there is no city or town (that) does not bear evident marks of approaching decay. (...) In eastern countries, the weak and the injured are without any refuge whatever; and the only law that decides all controversies is the cane and the caprice of a governor.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • As the ground is seldom tilled otherwise than by compulsion… the whole country is badly cultivated, and a great part rendered unproductive… The peasant cannot avoid asking himself this question: Why should I toil for a tyrant who may come tomorrow and lay his rapacious hands upon all I possess and value… without leaving me the means (even) to drag my own miserable existence? - The Timariots (Timurids), Governors and Revenue contractors, on their part reason in this manner: Why should the neglected state of this land create uneasiness in our minds, and why should we expend our own money and time to render it fruitful? We may be deprived of it in a single moment… Let us draw from the soil all the money we can, though the peasant should starve or abscond…
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • [The Mughals maintained] “a large army for the purpose of keeping people in subjection… No adequate idea can be conveyed of the sufferings of the people. The cudgel and the whip compel them to incessant labour… their revolt or their flight is only prevented by the presence of a military force.”
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • No artisan can be expected to give his mind to his calling in the midst of a people who are either wretchedly poor, or who, if rich, assume an appearance of poverty, and who regard not the beauty and excellence but the cheapness of an article; a people whose grandeess pay for a work of art considerably under its value and according to their own caprice… For it should not be inferred that the workman is held in esteem, or arrives at a stage of independence. Nothing but sheer necessity or blows from a cudgel keeps him employed; he never can become rich, and he feels it no trifling matter if he have the means of satisfying the cravings of hunger and of covering his body with the coarsest garment. If money be gained it does not in any measure go into his pocket, but only serves to increase the wealth of the merchant.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • …grandees pay for a work of art considerably under its value, and according to their own caprice. … When an Omrah or Mansabdar requires the services of an artisan, he sends to the bazar for him, employing force, if necessary, to make the poor man work; and after the task is finished, the unfeeling lord pays, not according to the value- of the labour, but agreeably to his own standard of fair remuneration; the artisan having reason to congratulate himself if the Korrah has not been given in part payment.
    • François Bernier, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • The conclusion that the decay noticed in the early 19th century and more so in subsequent decades originated with European supremacy in India, therefore, seems inescapable. The 1769-70 famine in Bengal (when, according to British record, one-third of the population actually perished), may be taken as a mere forerunner of what was to come. (...) During the latter part of the 19th century, impressions of decay, decline and deprivation began to agitate the mind of the Indian people. Such impressions no doubt resulted from concrete personal, parental and social experience of what had gone before. They were, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated at times. By 1900, it had become general Indian belief that the country had been decimated by British rule in all possible ways; that not only had it become impoverished, but it had been degraded to the furthest possible extent; that the people of India had been cheated of most of what they had; that their customs and manners were ridiculed, and that the infrastructure of their society mostly eroded. One of the statements which thus came up was that the ignorance and illiteracy in India was caused by British rule; and, conversely, that at the beginning of British political dominance, India had had extensive education, learning and literacy. By 1930, much had been written on this point in the same manner as had been written on the deliberate destruction of Indian crafts and industry, and the impoverishment of the Indian countryside.
    • Dharmapal: The Beautiful Tree, Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century. (1983)
  • [In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole.] “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is exceedingly miserable; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.”
    • Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • The village communities are little republics, having nearly everything they want within themselves, and almost independent of any foreign relations. They seem to last where nothing else lasts. Dynasty after dynasty tumbles down; revolution succeeds to revolution; Hindoo, Patan, Mogul, Mahratta, Sik, English are all masters in turn; but the village communities remain the same... If a country remains for a series of years the scene of continued pillage and massacre, so that villages cannot be inhabited, the scattered villagers nevertheless return whenever the power of peaceable possession revives. A generation may pass away, but the succeeding generation will return. The sons will take the place of their fathers; the same site for the village, the same position for the houses, the same lands, will be occupied by the descendants of those who were driven out when the village was depopulated...
  • When any hungry wretch takes it into his head to ruin the kingdom, he goes to the king and says to him: 'Sire; if your majesty will give me the permission to raise money and a certain number of armed men, I will pay so many millions. The king then asks how it is intended to raise the money. It is by nothing else than the seizure of everybody in the kingdom, men and women, and by dint of torture compelling them to pay what is demanded. Such financiers are hateful and avaricious men. The king generally consents to their unjust proposals, as he thereby satisfies his own greed; he accords the asked-for permission, and demands security bonds.
    • Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • The common people (live in) poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe… their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking…
    • Pelsaert,Jahangir’s India. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • Peons or servants are exceedingly numerous in this country... for every one-be he mounted soldier, merchant or king’s official-keeps as many as his position and circumstances permit. Outside the house, they serve for display, running continually before their master’s horse; inside, they do the work of the house, each knowing his duty...
    • Pelsaert, Jahangir’s India. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The utter subjection and poverty of the common people-poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe. ... There are three classes of people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery-workmen, peons or servants and shopkeepers. For the workmen there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters (of cloth or chintz), embroiderers, carpet makers, cotton or silk weavers, black-smiths, copper-smiths, tailors, masons, builders, stone-cutters, a hundred crafts in all-any of these working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 tackas (tankahs), that is 4 or 5 strivers in wages. The second (scourge) is (the oppression of) the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, well beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all. From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred… For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri… in the day time, they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs… Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking… Their bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet or perhaps two… this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires… the smoke from these fires all over the city is so great that the eyes run, and the throat seems to be choked.
    • Francisco Pelsaert. Jahangir’s India. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • [the people of Hindustan lived] “as fishes do in the sea - the great ones eat up the little. For first the farmer robs the peasant, the gentlemen robs the farmer, the greater robs the lesser and the King robs all.”
    • Sir Thomas Roe (1615-19) Cited in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 269. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • There are very many private men in cities and towns, who are merchants or tradesmen that are very rich: but it is not safe for them that are so, so to appear, lest that they should be used as filled sponges.
    • Edward Terry, A Voyage to East India, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • Mahmud Ghaznavi also collected lot of wealth from Khams. A few facts and figures may be given as illustrations. In his war against Jayapal (1001-02 CE) the latter had to pay a ransom of 2,50,000 dinars (gold coin) for securing release from captivity. Even the necklace of which he was relieved was estimated at 2,00,000 dinars "and twice that value was obtained from the necks of those of his relatives who were taken prisoners or slain..." A couple of years later, all the wealth of Bhera, which was "as wealthy as imagination can conceive," was captured by the conqueror (1004-05 CE). In 1005-06 the people of Multan were forced to pay an indemnity of the value of 20,000,000 (royal) dirhams (silver coin). When Nawasa Shah, who had reconverted to Hinduism, was ousted (1007-08), the Sultan took possession of his treasures amounting to 400,000 dirhams. Shortly after, from the fort of Bhimnagar in Kangra, Mahmud seized coins of the value of 70,000,000 (Hindu Shahiya) dirhams and gold and silver ingots weighing some hundred maunds, jewellery and precious stones. There was also a collapsible house of silver, thirty yards in length and fifteen yards in breadth, and a canopy (mandapika) supported by two golden and two silver poles.19 Such was the wealth obtained that it could not be shifted immediately, and Mahmud had to leave two of his "most confidential" chamberlains, Altuntash and Asightin, to look after its gradual transportation.20 In the succeeding expeditions (1015-20) more and more wealth was drained out of the Punjab and other parts of India. Besides the treasures collected by Mahmud, his soldiers also looted independently. From Baran, Mahmud obtained, 1,000,000 dirhams and from Mahaban, a large booty. in the sack of Mathura five idols alone yielded 98,300 misqals (about 10 maunds) of gold.21 The idols of silver numbered two hundred. Kanauj, Munj, Asni, Sharva and some other places yielded another 3,000,000 dirhams. ... At Somnath his gains amounted to 20,000,000 dinars.
    • Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4, quoting Utbi
  • One idea that struck Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) was that it was “wealth” which was the “source of rebellion and disaffection.” It encouraged defiance and provided means of “revolt”. He and his counsellors deliberated that if somehow people could be impoverished, “no one would even have time to pronounce the word ‘rebellion’.” ...According to W.H. Moreland “the question really at issue was how to break the power of the rural leaders, the chiefs and the headmen of parganas and villages…” Sultan Alauddin therefore undertook a series of measures to crush them by striking at their major source of power-wealth. But in the process, leaders and followers, rich and poor, all were affected. The king started by raising the land tax (Kharaj) to fifty percent....Furthermore, under Alauddin’s system all the land occupied by the rich and the poor “was brought under assessment at the uniform rate of fifty per cent”. ....In short, a substantial portion of the produce was taken away by the government as taxes and the people were left with the bare minimum for sustenance. For the Sultan had “directed that only so much should be left to his subjects (raiyyat) as would maintain them from year to year… without admitting of their storing up or having articles in excess.” ... Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a divine from Egypt, was happy to learn that Alauddin had made the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition “that the Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans.” ....While summing up the achievements of Alauddin Khalji, the contemporary chronicler Barani mentions, with due emphasis, that by the last decade of his reign the submission and obedience of the Hindus had become an established fact. Such a submission on the part of the Hindus “has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter.”
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7, quoting Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India, p. 32 fn., Barani
  • An important order in the reign of Aurangzeb describes the Jagirdars as demanding in theory only half but in practice actually more than the total yield. Describing the conditions of the latter part of the seventeenth century Mughal empire, Dr. Tara Chand writes: “The desire of the State was to extract the economic rent, so that nothing but bare subsistence. remained for the peasant.” Aurangzeb’s instructions were that “there shall be left for everyone who cultivates his land as much as he requires for his own support till the next crop be reaped and that of his family and for seed. This much shall be left to him, what remains is land tax, and shall go to the public treasury.”
    • Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, I, p. 121. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • Aurangzeb did this for two reasons: first, because by this time his treasures had begun to shrink owing to expenditure on his campaigns ; secondly, to force the Hindus to become Mahomedans. Many who were unable to pay turned Mahomedans, to obtain relief from the insults of the collectors. ... [Aurangzeb] was of the opinion that he had found in this tax an excellent means of succeeding in converting them, besides thereby replenishing his treasuries greatly...
    • About the Jizya during Aurangzeb's reign. Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • The Hindu was taxed to the extent of half the produce of his land, and had to pay duties on all his buffaloes, goats, and other milk-cattle. The taxes were to be levied equally on rich and poor, at so much per acre, so much per animal. Any collectors or officers taking bribes were summarily dismissed and heavily punished with sticks, pincers, the rack, imprisonment and chains. The new rules were strictly carried out, so that one revenue officer would string together 20 Hindu notables and enforce payment by blows. No gold or silver, not even the betelnut, so cheering and stimulative to pleasure, was to be seen in a Hindu house, and the wives of the impoverished native officials were reduced to taking service in Muslim families. Revenue officers came to be regarded as more deadly than the plague; and to be a government clerk was disgrace worse than death, in so much that no Hindu would marry his daughter to such a man. ... [These edicts] were so strictly carried out that the chaukidars and khuts and muqad-dims were not able to ride on horseback, to find weapon, to wear fine clothes, or to indulge in betel. . .... No Hindu could hold up his head. ..... Blows, confinement in the stocks, imprisonment and chains were all employed to enforce payment. "
    • Stanley Lane-Poole : Medieval India, quoted from B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • Guru Nanak proceeds to describe how the oppressors shaved off the maidens, their ‘heads with braided hair, with vermillion marks in the parting’; how ‘their throats were choked with dust’; how they were cast out of their palatial homes, unable now to sit even in the neighbourhood of their homes; how those who had come to the homes of their husbands in palanquins, decorated with ivory, who lived in the lap of luxury, had been tied with ropes around their necks; how their pearl strings had been shattered; how the very beauty that was their jewel had now become their enemy – ordered to dishonour them, the soldiers had carried them off. ‘Since Babar’s rule has been proclaimed,’ Guru Nanak wrote, ‘even the princes have no food to eat.’
    • Guru Granth Sahib, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The glitter of gems and gold in the Taj Mahal or the Peacock Throne ought not to blind us to the fact that in Mughal India, man was considered vile; - the mass of the people had no economic liberty, no indefeasible right to justice or personal freedom, when their oppressor was a noble or high official or landowner; political rights were not dreamt of... The Government was in effect despotism tempered by revolution or fear of revolution.
    • Jadunath Sarkar, A Short History of Aurangzib, p. 464. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 2
  • The Sultan requested the wise men to supply some rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion. ... The people were brought to such a state of obedience that one revenue officer would string twenty khiits, mukaddims, or chaudharis together by the neck, and enforce payment by blows. No Hindu could hold up his head, and in their houses no sign of gold or silver, tonkas or jitals, or of any superfluity was to be seen. These things, which nourish insubordination and rebellion, were no longer to be found. Driven by destitution, the wives of the khuls and mukaddims went and served for hire in the houses of the Musulmans.... The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left un- able to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life. .... I have, therefore, taken my measures, and have made my subjects obedient, so that at my command they are ready to creep into holes like mice. Now you tell me that it is all in accordance with law that the Hindus should be reduced to the most abject obedience.I am an unlettered man, but I have seen a great deal; be assured then that the Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. I have, therefore, given orders that just sufficient shall be left to them from year to year, of corn, milk, and curds, but that they shall not be allowed to accumulate hoards and property."
    • Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, of Ziauddin Barani in Elliot and Dowson, Vol. III : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. p. 182 ff.
  • The resultant effect of [Alauddins] policy was that the people in the villages suffered from extreme financial hardship. The poverty of Indians was noticed in the later period by foreigners.
    • The position of Hindus under the Delhi Sultanate, 1206-1526 by Kanhaiya Lall Srivastava, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 390

India after 1947[edit]

  • We need not feel embarrassed to advocate economic nationalism...Our government functionaries also must not feel shy to work closely with business. Jointly they should ensure that India's economic interests are protected -- through trade, investment, and foreign policy measures..
  • India's bane is the profesional 'povertywallas': the politicians who have incessantly mouthed slogans such as 'garibi hathao' … and the economists who write continually about 'abysmal poverty'. Both have generally espoused policies, such as defending public sector enterprises at any cost, discounting and even opposing liberal reforms, promoting white-elephant style projects that use capital-intensive techniques on unrealistic grounds such as that they would create profits and savings when in fact they have drained the economy through losses...
  • There is no doubt in my mind that India is one of the great financial success stories of the future. The curse of India is that Indians lack pride in being Indian. The moment they have that pride, India will be the next Japan.
    • Microcomputer pioneer Adam Osborne, Times of India, 7/12/1990. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • If we stop thinking of the poor as victims, or as a burden, and start recognising them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up."
  • When Robert McNamara was president of the World Bank, he visited Dharavi, near Mumbai airport, then, as now, one of the largest slums in the world. Looking at the abject poverty in the shantytown, he broke down, possibly realising the enormity of the task ahead.
  • In 2014, one of the key agendas of the BJP’s election campaign was highlighting the dismal management of the Indian economy, ironically under an ‘economist’ prime minister and a ‘know-it-all’ finance minister. We all knew that the economy was in the doldrums but since we were not in government, we naturally did not have the complete details of the state of the economy. But, what we saw when we formed the government left us shocked! The state of the economy was much worse than expected. Things were terrible. Even the budget figures were suspicious. When all of this came to light, we had two options – to be driven by Rajneeti (political considerations) or be guided by Rashtraneeti (putting the interests of India First)... Rajneeti, or playing politics on the state of the economy in 2014, would have been extremely simple as well as politically advantageous for us. We had just won a historic election, so obviously the frenzy was at a different level. The Congress Party and their allies were in big trouble. Even for the media, it would have made news for months on end. On the other hand, there was Rashtraneeti, where more than politics and one-upmanship, reform was needed. Needless to say, we preferred to think of ‘India First’ instead of putting politics first. We did not want to push the issues under the carpet, but we were more interested in addressing the issue. We focused on reforming, strengthening and transforming the Indian economy. The details about the decay in the Indian economy were unbelievable. It had the potential to cause a crisis all over. In 2014, industry was leaving India. India was in the Fragile Five. Experts believed that the ‘I’ in BRICS would collapse. Public sentiment was that of disappointment and pessimism.
    • Narendra Modi, Swarajya Interviews Prime Minister Modi, Interview, R Jagannathan- Jul 02, 2018 [1]
  • You [media persons] remember what we do for two days out of two years, but where the [Gujarat] government travels to the countryside for a month every year and promotes agriculture, you are not interested. The result of such attitude is that the Manmohan Singh government's targeted [annual] agricultural growth [rate] of four per cent is stuck at 2.5%. The [year-on-year] agricultural growth in my Gujarat is 14%, but no one looks at it.

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