A case of development in two cities – Sialkot vs Batala

There are these interesting studies which look at development of two regions seperated by some exogeneous shock like partition, defining state boundaries and so on. Likes of Acemoglu et al have used the idea in interesting ways to show how the regions which were similar one differ now because of quality of institutions.

Gagan Prett Singh of JNU has this fascinating piece looking at similar idea. He looks at how partition of India influenced the destiny of two cities in Punjab – Sialkot and Batala. Sialkot and Batala were similar regions but destiny changed post partition. Sialkot went to Pakistan and Batala to India. Interestingly, Hindu business community was dominant in Sialkot and Muslims in Batala. Both migrated hoping that partition would be temporary. But it was not to be.

Sialkot was famous for its Sports industry and Batala for Steel. Sialkot struggled early on after partition but picked up pace in 1970s. Whereas Batala suffered majorly after the Sikh Militancy. This is also the major point of the author that militancy played a significant role in lowering the economic potential of the region. Hence, it needs fiscal support:

In this note I will critically analyse one argument which claims that the two decades of the Sikh militancy, beginning in the late 1970s and ending in the late 1990s, had a negative effect on the industrial sector of Punjab. Again, the argument is equivocal, for it can neither be denied nor accepted, as the negative impact of militancy cannot be assessed until we compare the industrial growth of Punjab with other industrial zones which escaped a political crisis like the Sikh militancy. Further, even within Punjab, the effect of militancy on industries must have varied across the state, as the northern districts were more affected by the militancy than the southern districts.

It is likely that the negative effect of the militancy must have been most pronounced in the northern districts of Gurdaspur and Amritsar than in their southern counterparts. The industrial sector of Punjab also had another unique character as most of the industries had been earlier shattered by the partition of 1947. For these reasons, to assess the maximum possible effect of militancy on the industry, I will discuss the case of an industrial city which was also the epicentre of Sikh militancy, and I will compare it with another nearby industrial city which escaped the Sikh militancy altogether, for it was located across the border in Pakistan. Both industrial cities had a similar past as they were shattered by the partition of Punjab.

I will discuss and compare the industrial growth of Batala (located in Gurdaspur District of the Indian Punjab) and Sialkot (a border city in Pakistani Punjab), as Batala and Sialkot had similar colonial origins of their industries, and these industries were shattered by the partition, and while Batala suffered as it was the epicentre of militancy (Gill 1997: 10), nearby Sialkot faced no such political crisis. The present study also has some wider implications as it juxtaposes the policies of the governments of India and Pakistan towards two industrial cities located at their respective borders.

Superb narrative:

Apart from these historical reasons, the industry had other reasons for developing in Sialkot. Ideally located in the foothills of Himalayas, the industry benefited from the supply of wood from the adjoining Jammu and Kashmir and the present-day Himachal Pradesh (Weiss 1991: 123). Sialkot had highly-skilled labourers, and the connectivity of Sialkot with railways helped the industry to flourish. World War I gave a major impetus to manufacturing industry in Sialkot, and after the war, Sialkot emerged as a leading exporter of sports goods. Sialkot goods were exported to America, Australia, Africa, Japan, and several other countries. During World War II, Sialkot emerged as an important industrial centre for the supplies of the Allied Forces with such products as sports goods, surgical implements, wood-ware, and cutlery (Director 1943: 23).

By the end of the war, it had become a world famous centre for the manufacturing of sports goods, but it declined after partition, as majority of the businessmen were Hindus and Sikhs, who migrated to India, and the local Muslim workers lacked entrepreneurial skills and contacts to re-establish their business. In Sialkot, the sports goods industry also declined because of the shortage of wood supply as most of the wood came from Jammu and Kashmir, which was cut off from Pakistan after partition. It was, as Illyas Chattha’s work shows, only after the persistent efforts of the Government of Pakistan that Sialkot re-emerged as an industrial centre (2011: 215–21).

In early 20th century, Batala emerged as a major centre for the iron and steel industry. The vast expansion in agriculture in canal colonies resulted in the mechanisation of agriculture in Punjab and a demand for the latest agricultural implements, most of which were imported from Britain. These implements included ploughs, harrows, hoes, drills, chaff cutters and cane crushers. Since most of these implements were expensive as well as unsuitable for Indian agricultural conditions, it resulted in the emergence of a local manufacturing industry which succeeded in replacing the imported implements.

Hmm.. Then destinies changed post partition and post militancy.

History, history, history..

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