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The path beyond politics

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The path beyond politics

Takshshila (Known as Taxila today and located in Pakistan) was an important city during the Maurya Empire (321-185 BC). The city had a world-renowned university of its time and it was also the commercial hub for India’s land trade with the Hellenic world and western Asia. A key reason why the city flourished so much was that it was very well connected with the rest of the country by a highway that reached the empire’s capital – Pataliputra (present day Patna in Bihar). This highway was known as Uttarpath (meaning the North Road) in those days. (That’s why ‘path’ is italicised in the above title; incidentally the word has Indo-European roots.)
Even after the Maurya Empire came to an end the Uttarpath continued to be used for centuries. Later, in the 16th century, it was re-built by Emperor Sher Shah Suri (1472-1545) and re-christened as Sadak-e-Azam (meaning the Great Road) primarily for military and administrative reasons. Stretching from Sonargaon (now in Bangladesh) to Peshawar (now in Pakistan), it linked the remotest provinces in his empire spread across the Indian subcontinent.
The Mughals – who regained India’s control from the Suris – acknowledged the importance of this road and extended it to Kabul through the Khyber Pass.
Then came the British. They further improved the road after slightly re-aligning it between Kolkata and Varanasi. They renamed it the ‘Grand Trunk Road’ and sometimes even referred to it as the ‘Long Walk’. Kim – Rudyard Kipling’s fascinating novel – unfolds majorly on the Grand Trunk Road where the young Irish protagonist journeys with a Tibetan lama on a spiritual quest. Kipling’s description of the road – ‘a river of life such as exists nowhere else’ – says it all.
Today, the Grand Trunk Road continues to run in India as well as in Pakistan. The Indian side of this road is part of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways’ ambitious Golden Quadrilateral project that includes two national highways – NH1 (Wagah-Amritsar-Jalandhar-Delhi section) and NH2 (Delhi-Kolkata section).
Can you find any other road network that continues to run for more than 2000 years, spans empires (and governments) and creates a great socio-cultural-commercial link? For me, it is everything that a road network should be. A dynamic stretch of life that assumes infrastructural consciousness. A live wire that connects people, places and more. It’s the reason why I say a nation’s infrastructural development should (and will) happen beyond political considerations.
When I was about to leave for the interview with Mr Nath, someone asked me whether I subscribe to the Minister’s political ideology. “You are missing the point,” I said. The interview wasn’t because he belongs to a particular political party. It was because he is the country’s Minister of Road Transport & Highways. And what I subscribe to is his vision of ‘connecting India through a great road network’. After all, we have many more Grand Trunk roads to build.

Niranjan Mudholkar, editor, Construction Week India

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