[Reader-list] Third Posting: Making Sense of Spatial Politics in Jamshedpur

kalyan nayan kalyannayan at yahoo.co.in
Tue Jun 8 17:44:43 IST 2004

  Making Sense of Spatial Politics in Jamshedpur City

“We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous
or more philanthropic than other people. But we think
we started on sound and straight forward business
principles, considering the interests of shareholders
our own, and the health and welfare of the employees,
the sure foundation of our prosperity”.
            Jamshedji Nusserwanji Tata

The above statement might not be a remarkable and
original insight into the social philosophy that
should endow a man of wealth but it would be of
interest to contrast it with an equally frank
statement ten years later. During a conference in
London with Tata’s representatives in 1904-05
regarding concessions in freight rates for bulk
conveyance of raw materials, iron and steel, the
Managing Director of Bengal Nagpur Railway said:

“It does not appeal to us at all if you can only show
that in an indirect and remote way this would be for
the benefit of India. The only appeal that can be made
to us is that we can make money out of it. This
Railway Company, you must always bear in mind, is a
commercial undertaking, and must only be actuated by
commercial motives. We must not consider the
advantages to India and, must not be actuated by
anything like patriotic or philanthropic motives 
do not consider a snap of the fingers about the
advantages to India”. 

One could only guess the fundamental difference in
opinion, which later on became the foundation stone of
Indian industrial bourgeoisie at that point of time.
Values of the Tata Iron and Steel Company were
reflected in the city plans and architecture, how
human interactions have been influenced by the
architecture and urban design and how people have
reacted to the company’s built environment. We have
traced the lineage of the city in brief but here to
convey the clear idea, we would not only see the
establishment of Jamshedpur but also the sustenance of
it as the oldest and the largest existing company town
in the world. It was the prototype for post
independence Indian industrial cities such as Bhilai,
Rourkela and Durgapur, which were established in
full-blown rural areas.

But closely following J. N. Tata’s ideas we would also
see that the objective of building the city was not
considered only on the basis of philanthropic motives.
There was larger philosophy behind it. In fact world
over it has been experienced  that the company towns
are excellent examples of rational attempts by
planners and architects in the employ of industrial
capital to mold workers and manipulate social and
economic interactions for the primary purpose of
improving industrial production. For the purpose of
moulding the worker, planning served as a significant
tool. There was a constant desire on the part of the
Company to constantly intervene in the built
atmosphere of the city whenever it saw it escalating
beyond control. It was truly one of the guiding
factors of the planners and for that they took
constant guidance and inspiration from the European
and American conditions. But it was also true that
these planning mechanisms became a tool in their hands
to make regulation of space serve their need of
controlling and disciplining the labour. For example,
housing was one of the prime considerations of every
planner. Efforts were made in every plan to negotiate
with this impending requirement. But it was also a
means to dissuade the worker from building whatever it
liked. To quote Lefebvre,

“In the extension and proliferation of cities housing
is the guarantee of reproductivity, be it biological,
social or political. Society i.e. capitalist society
no longer totalizes it elements nor seeks to achieve
total integration through monuments. Instead it
strives to distill its essence into buildings”.

In other words planning was also for the creation of a
modern, industrial working ethic. It was not a matter
of carrot and stick policy for the Tatas. The city
served as the extension of their hegemony. To put it
in more precise terms it was a platform to practice
paternalism. They resisted every attempt to let go the
control of the city from their hands even if it was
coming out as a huge expenditure hole for them. 

Lefebvre referring to the concept of ‘spatial
practice’ has stated,

“Spatial practice embraces production and
Spatial practice ensures continuity and
some degree of cohesion. In terms of social space, and
of each member of a given society’s relationship to
that space, this cohesion implies a guaranteed level
of competence and a specific level of performance
embodies complex symbolisms, sometimes coded,
sometimes not linked to underground side of social

This cohesion and creation of purpose seemed to be one
of the primary objectives of the Tatas. One could
still ask why this moulding? It is been observed that
‘each mode of production has its own space; the shift
from one mode to another must entail production of a
new space. A fresh space needs to be generated, a
space which is organized and planned subsequently’.
Not only this, it has to be fashioned, shaped and
invested by social activities during a finite
historical period.

Probably this mindset although not pronounced
justified the refashioning or remoulding. It should be
pointed out that there were contending urges for
hegemony, between worker and the capital, and
contention over space for extending hegemony but this
contention was more depicted in the attitude of
‘ambivalence’. An ambivalence that invited more and
more negotiation rather than the confrontation in the

hi received your mail. thank you for calling me. i will reply you soon. sorry for the tantrum. bye

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