The Hindi speaking provinces of India: Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh (MP) together make a population close to half a billion. Historically, this region was home to important cosmopolitan cities of the world, like Kashi and Patliputra. But today, the region suffers from a “metropolis vacuum”, because it has no major metropolitan agglomeration to attract talent and investments.
The six largest cities of India, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad all lie outside of this Hindi heartland. The other new upcoming urban centers like Pune, Ahmedabad, and Surat also lie outside of the region. The glaring absence of a major metropolitan center in the region has forced young people to migrate away from the small towns and move to other cities in the West and the South.
Today, India needs sustained economic growth of close to 11 to 12%, to fulfill the aspirations of its highly ambitious and very young population. During the previous decades, India’s growth was primarily centered in its West and the South. But, if today India aims to sustain and accelerate its progress, the Hindi heartland needs to become an engine of growth too. Can such growth happen in the absence of a metropolitan anchor?
Cities play an indispensable role in any region’s economy, as the recent research by Robert Lucas (Chicago) has emphasized. Cities match capital with talent. They attract capital and bring people of diverse backgrounds and talents together to form productive partnerships. Cities motivate people from nearby areas to learn new skills and to invest more in the education and health of their children.
If a region lacks major cosmopolitan cities, then capital and talent are matched much less efficiently. If people do not expect that their talent will be rewarded because of this mismatch, they have lower interest in investing in themselves and their children. The mismatch creates a vicious circle of low human capital and low growth. The Hindi heartland needs a few major cities, to get out of this vicious circle.
When discussing Indian economic growth, much emphasis is given to India’s central government. India’s central government located in New Delhi plays a very important role in pushing for the much-needed reforms, which can make the match between capital and talent more efficient. But India’s state governments are key players in shaping the direction of India’s regional development. If India’s Hindi heartland is to grow, it needs state governments that emphasize the importance of large and COSMOPOLITAN cities in economic growth.
India’s central polity, both on the left and the right, understands the importance of cities in economic development. But is it concerned about the metropolis vacuum that is diminishing the prospects of India’s Hindi heartland? Recently, India has made plans to develop industrial corridors connecting its major cities. The Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) has received much attention in the media, which connects the two cities via western cities like Jaipur, Ahmedabad, and Surat. Such projects offer much potential for future economic growth. Yet, if Indian policymakers are serious about ending the metropolis vacuum faced by its half a billion citizens, they should take concrete and targeted steps to accelerate urban development in the region.
Targeted steps to rejuvenate cities of Hindi heartland are a win-win for all stakeholders in India’s growth. If metropolitan cities can emerge in the region, it will relieve the migratory pressures many growing cities like Bangalore are facing today. Here is the bottom-line: Of the 1.35 billion people of India, about half a billion cannot be left behind.
An urban policy that emphasizes healthy growth of cosmopolitan cities throughout India including its Hindi heartland is a crucial ingredient for achieving sustained two-digit GDP growth, which India acutely needs.
 475 million in 2018. (220 mm in UP, 110 mm in Bihar, 80 mm in MP, 35 mm Jharkhand, 30 mm Chattisgarh)
 Lucas Jr, R.E., 2017. What Was the Industrial Revolution? (No. w23547). National Bureau of Economic Research.
 The Amritsar-Kolkata industrial corridor is a useful step, and more projects focused on the heartland are needed.