August 13, 2006

The Red Flag Law : From England to India

All students and enthusiasts of the History of the Motor Car are aware of the Red Flag law that was in effect in England in the closing years of the 19th century.

This was the time when engineers were making the first hesitant attempts to put a steam engine on a horse carriage to see if they could make a self-propelled vehicle that was both light enough to move and yet safe enough for the passengers ... and there were many ideas that were explored. Engineers in England, as well as in France, Germany and other industrialised nations were carrying out various experiments to study different options ... with different degrees of technical and commercial success.

But England was the only country where the legislature -- that is Parliament -- had unilaterally and ignorantly mandated that self-propelled vehicles were a danger to the population and hence should they venture out on public roads, they had to be preceded by a man, walking in front, with a red flag.

This arbitrary piece of legislation was guided less by actual concerns of safety and more by the lobby that had emerged to protect and preserve the fortunes of those who made a living out of horses and horse-drawn carriages. This included companies that built and operated horse-drawn carriages ( which were the dominant modes of transportation ) plus the entire industry centred around horses -- those who sold horse feed, those who looked after horses and the like.

This strange and retrograde Red Flag law could not stop the evolution of the automobile industry but it did leave the British motor industry with a very significant handicap ... as European car makers could move forward and establish themselves at the expense of the British.

The law has ofcourse been repealed long ago but it is still held up as a prime example of how irrational and mischivous legislation can and does have a negative impact on the growth of an important industry.

.... That was then, how is this relevent today and in India ?

The left parties in India's parliament are the equivalent of the Red Flag law in India today. When entrepreneurs in this country are at last breaking free from the colonial past and trimming their sails to catch the winds of globalisation ... we have the equivalent of theRed Flag law to hinder and impede progress.

Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG) in inevitable ... as inevitable as the automobile has proved to be .... and yet our left parties want to have the equivalent of the Red Flag law ... to slow down its progress.

The purported concerns are similar ... it is said that the LPG is too dangerous to be let loose on the illiterate and unsuspecting population of India ... just as self-propelled vehicles were too dangerous for the population of England in the 19th century.

The real reasons are of course far too malefic ... should LPG progress at the pace that it should, it would make life very difficult for a whole slew of people ... the crony capitalists who have been sucking the nation dry and the malevolent trade unions who enjoy unbridled power at the expense of both the worker as well as the population at large.

Hence we have to suffer the modern version of the Red Flag law as the nation tries to take the highway to productivity and prosperity.

In 19th century England, the Red Flag law surely must have been debated and discussed in Parliament and in the press ... but today we know it for what it was .. a worthless piece of legislation that crippled the British motor industry.

Today ... we discuss and debate LPG in Parliament and in the press -- both physical as well as digitial -- but we know that fifty years from now, the jury will be out and we would know that this debate about the progress of LPG reforms was all hogwash.

But industry and entrepreneurship in India would have been dealt a crippling blow from which it would take years to recover.

Such is the power of our so-called Democracy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved the 'Comparision'... ! SO TRUE.
Glad you are back :-)