Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why the future belongs to India

In preparing for a much publicised debate in London on the motion ‘The future belongs to India, not China’, I was reminded of a conversation with my mother. She had asked, what is the difference between China growing at a rate of 10% and India at 8%? I replied that the difference was, indeed, very significant. If we were to grow at 10% we could save twenty years. This is almost a generation. We could lift a whole generation into the middle class twenty years sooner. She thought for a while and then said gently, 'we have waited 3000 years for this moment. Why don't we wait another twenty and do it the Indian way?'

She had understood that the cost of democracy is the price the poor pay in the delay of their entry into the middle class. She did not elaborate the 'Indian way' but it must include taking a holiday on half a dozen New Years Days! It is easy to get mesmerized by China's amazing progress and feel frustrated by India's chaotic democracy, but I think she had expressed the sentiments of most Indians who will not trade off democracy for two per cent higher growth.
In referring to the 'Indian way', my mother meant that a nation must be true to itself. Democracy comes easily to us because India has historically 'accumulated' its diverse groups who retain their distinctiveness while identifying themselves as Indian. China has 'assimilated' its people into a common, homogeneous Confucian society. China is a melting pot in which differences disappear while India is a salad bowl in which the constituents retain their identity. Hence, China has always been governed by a hierarchical, centralized state-a tradition that has carried into the present era of reform communism. China resembles a business corporation today. Each mayor and party secretary has objectives relating to investment, output and growth, which are aligned to national goals. Those who exceed their goals rise quickly. The main problem in running a country as a business is that many people get left out.

India, on the other hand, can only manage itself by accommodating vocal and varied interest groups in its salad bowl. This leads to a million negotiations daily and we call this system 'democracy'. It slows us down--we take five years to build a highway versus one in China. Those who are disgruntled go to court. But our politicians are forced to worry about abuses of human rights, whereas my search on Google on 'human rights abuses in China' yielded 47.8 million entries in 13 seconds! Democracies have a safety valve-it allows the disgruntled to let off steam before slowly co-opting them.

Both India and China have accepted the capitalist road to prosperity. But capitalism is more comfortable in a democracy, which fosters entrepreneurs naturally. A state enterprise can never be as innovative or nimble and this is why the Chinese envy some of our private companies. Democracy respects property rights. As both nations urbanize, peasants in India are able to sell or borrow against their land, but the Chinese peasants are at the mercy of local party bosses. Because India has the rule of law, entrepreneurs can enforce contracts. If someone takes away your property in China, you have no recourse. Hence, it is the party bosses who are accumulating wealth in China. The rule of law slows us down but it also protects us (and our environment, as the NGOs have discovered).

We take freedom for granted in India but it was not always so. When General Reginald Dyer opened fire in 1919 in Jallianwala Bagh killing 379 people, Indians realised they could only have dignity when they were free from British rule. The massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989, where 300 students were killed, was China's Jallianwala Bagh. China today may have become richer than India but the poorest Chinese yearns for the same freedom.

Because the Indian state is inefficient, millions of entrepreneurs have stepped into the vacuum. When government schools fail, people start private schools in the slums, and the result is millions of 'slumdog millionaires'. You cannot do this in China. Our free society forces us to solve our own problems, making us self-reliant. Hence, the Indian way is likely to be more enduring because the people have scripted India’s success while China’s state has crafted its success. This worries China’s leaders who ask, if India can become the world’s second fastest economy despite the state, what will happen when the Indian state begins to perform? India's path may be slower but it is surer, and the Indian way of life is also more likely to survive. This is why when I am reborn I would prefer it to be in India.

----The writer is speaking in a debate in London on 12 May 2009 in support of the motion ' The future belongs to India, not China'-----

64 comments:

StockingUp said...

Can you please tell me if and when this would be broadcast on the BBC.
Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Democracy respects property rights"

Perhaps, but as Indians, didn't we forfeit our right to property with the 44th amendment..

-PR

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. Thank you for that.

Alina said...

I quoted your article in my blog and I got an anonymous claiming to be from China say this-
Anonymous said...
Indians are always talk,talk,talk... from the author, everything in india sociaty are good, positive, except the result. Why can't indians ave more self reflection? after 0ver 60 years, the world bigest democracies still has so many people living in slum, there must something wrong there which I'm so sure even I never been to that country and living in beijing.

What would your reply to him be?

iamyuva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
iamyuva said...

> also it important to note more than 90% of rich business people in china are member of/linked with national party.
> cost of creativity is very high in china. if local company can coyp GM car model and GM cannt win a case against them they why would anyone want to invent anything..
> also when majority of chinese people are rich(middle class) next thing they will ask for is freedom of speech.. that will be next big challenge for chinese govt.

Anshul Arora said...

Dear Sir

I partially agree to you. When it comes to business, I think its all risk and return relationship phenomenon. Current slowdown is the best epitome of it. We are simply a risk-avoiding society. So from business point of view, China is way ahead of us.

But when we talk about the development of a country, its not just the GDP growth rate. Upliftment of a society as a whole takes a lot more than business growth which has been very aptly explained by you.

However, issues like population and politics might push us fifty years behind China. Until we adress these issues, I guess we wil be left behind not only in GDP growth rate but also in the broader context of social development.

Lingo of the article and clarity of thought is again enthralling!!

Raineed said...

Thanks, I learned quite
a lot from your article. I also agree with some of your points. It is just like racing cars. People notice that the structure of Chinese car is more rigid, but brittle, because of no democracy. While the Indian car is kind of loose but more elastic in infrastructure.

By running a long way on a rough road, it is natural to worry about the Chinese car, and ask: would it be safe in the future? However, these viewpoints have been mentioned many times. Maybe it is worthwhile to think from a different direction.

What is the real driving force for the economic boost of C. and I.. Is it the engines inside the two cars? Yes, but only partly. The main reasons keeping the development of the two countries are the global cooperation in economy and the peace of the world. In this case, China and India are not like two cars but more like two sailing boats in a good weather.

I agree that in any case, the infrastructure of politics is important. However, if we only discuss the running rate of the two countries in the near future, the strong control of the government is critical.

While in a long run, Chinese people have to find a way to release the stress effectively in their car/boat. Here, I want to point out that Internet may be suitable for the task. As it SMOOTHLY breaks the barrier of the news-control, spreading the modern concepts of laws, and forces the government to reform and accept the rule of democracy.

suhail said...

Sir

Its a great article, i happened to relate it with a book China Inc where in the author has also come up with the same worries which you have highlighted which are quite true and one of the examples he quoted was the way they have tackled there population problem in comparison with india and they are going to face problem now reason being our population is quite young vis a vis china whose population is turning old and future definitely belongs to us

B.G.Subhash said...

Excellent article. I respect Mr Gurcharan Das for his reading of India. However, the trouble with Indian Democracy is that it has successfully side stepped the issue of merrit all over the government Institutions which takes decisions concerning Aam Aadmi in every day life for which carefully considered decisions are important. Good decisions are rare. Simple example of 16th May TOI report is "A day before the results of the lok sabha polls ,the official EC web site crashed. In constructing the web site NIC had budgeted for 80.64 Billion hits for8 hours on the basis of 2800hits/second but with a 3 lac hits/second it received 8.64Trillion hits/8 hours and it just crashed" What an unfathomable difference in understanding? This signifies apathy for Merrit or recognizing the importance of merrit and will surely imperill the Indian democracy and it may take any shape in future.Unless merrit is recognised and respected Democracy in India is in Danger!

Supreeth Kini said...

Sir, its yet another great post by view as you continue to uphold India inc. Could you please share the verdict/conclusion of the debate. Thank you.

Cane-an said...

Sir,
Thank you. Every time I hear bad news from home, I come back to read your blog. I may or may not agree with what you say but it definitely is reassuring.
--K

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I am Chinese and an under-deserved Anglophile as well. To us Chinese, India is already the world's No.1 Superpower. No dispute here, and much admired. India has a super high-tech economy with your old dig and InfoSys, Wipro, and much more that the average Chinese never even heard about. Not to mention Gandhi, Nehru, and Singh super human politicians. India has a huge population dividend, and as time grows the advantage will become much more pronounced. In the next 100 years, India with her super effective democracy will prevail; as we just pray that India will be also kind enough to leave a bit of room for us Chinese to earn a modest living on our planet. India just needs to sleep walk through the next 30 years, whereas us Chinese will have to continue to slave under the Sun, rain, and snow just to keep us fed and our kids in school. Cheers to India.

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Anonymous said...

By Huyu,

I am Chinese and an under-deserved Anglophile as well. To us Chinese,

India is already the world's No.1 Superpower, transending the best

traditions of the British Empire every day. No dispute here, and much

admired. In PPP terms, India is already the world's No.1 economy, not

even the US comes close. India has a super high-tech economy with

InfoSys, Wipro, Nano, and much more that the average Chinese never even

heard about, in whose unfit minds, they only know about BYD, Hauwei,

ZTE, and Lenovo. Never mind, how limited horizons. With the exemplary

services of Gandhi, Nehru, and Singh super human politicians, India has

a huge population dividend, and as time grows the advantage will become

much more pronounced, just imagine millions more Singhs. With her close

to 1.1 Billion Software Engineers, they are making this profession

obselete. In the next 100 years, India with her super effective

democracy will prevail; as we Chinese just pray that India will also

have mercy to leave a bit of room for us Chinese to earn a modest

living in our corner of the planet. India just needs to sleep walk

through the next 30 years, or better yet with their superior

intellectual powers there are more important topics to discuss like

whether the future belongs to the white cats, or it belongs to the

black cats, or indeed both, whereas us poor Chinese will have to

continue to slave under the Sun, rain, and snow just to keep us fed and

our kids in school. We may not even afford shelter, but kids have to

learn anyway. With the current economic crisis, my salary here in

Beijing is shrinking by 8% each year, together with the overall

economy, all that necessity is becoming harder day-by-day. In 30 years,

I suspect my salary would march on to zero, but then I would also be

dead and need not to care. Oh, by the way whatever you hear from our

government and the foreign press, if it is good news, just ignore it,

it is not quite right, shall we just say. Cheers to India.

Arzan said...

Yes the future does belong to India. There is a wonderful inspiring story in the WSJ today - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124458376269599545.html.
Reminded me of your stories about travelling the depths of India during your early days with Vicks.

sree said...

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124458376269599545.html.

Great Article...

sanjith said...

why should we compare india and china? Is it to feed our self righteous ego? lets look at it not from the angle of the elites or politicians from either side, lets look at it from the point of poor people on both sides...they need to survive...let the future belong to the poor of both india and china.

Vinod said...

If the so-called Advanced Democracies like USA, UK, etc. are unable to stop the Chinese rise how can our so-called Developing India beat China in future ?

But why to worry about China or others ? Why not keep improving ourselves without comparing ?

Comparison is always suicidal as shown by jeolousy of Dhuryodhan towards Pandavs !

Vinod said...

If the so-called Advanced Democracies like USA, UK, etc. are unable to stop the Chinese rise how can our so-called Developing India beat China in future ?

But why to worry about China or others ? Why not keep improving ourselves without comparing ?

Comparison is always suicidal as shown by jeolousy of Dhuryodhan towards Pandavs !

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Anonymous said...

i hate to disagree with the beautiful picture of India presented here, but I do DISAGREE. I think this is exactly what has been going on with the optimism attached to the Indian economy. The only reason why Indians should rejoice is that the situation did not get worse, or maybe it did.
Mr. Das there are no slumdog millionaires other than in Danny Boyle's film. There are slums and they are the "slums of despair". I have been doing research on slums and slum redevelopment for 2 years now, and as much as it depresses me I found that the problem with India is that we do not acknowledge that there is a problem. If there is an international event, some foreign dignitary visiting or a better real estate proposal the government decides to demolish the slums. after the World Bank took the neo-liberal turn, it was decided to redevelop the slums through community involvement. The best example is Mumbai where there are plans to rehabilitate slum dwellers in multistory buildings. What happens to the source of income to the person who runs a bicycle repair shop from his home? the potter? the cobbler?
How can planning in India be so naive and why are we not learning from our mistakes? why do we still try to get rid of the poor and not poverty.
India is on a going to be the global economic giant with a large part of its population not only being poor, but also not having a chance, an opportunity to grow out of that poverty?
I am a student and I have great respect for your knowledge which is why I am bringing these questions up here because I know you will be the best person to answer them.
With due respect I look forward to a response from you Mr. Das.

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This article the explanation of "Indian way" and the comparison of Chinese way and Indian way with "melting Pot and Salad bowl " are very apt and self-explanatory.

Anurag Mahapatra said...

I fail to understand as why Indians get to jingoism even if we fail.

Growth is about pursuing right policies and working institutions and less with democracy or communism.

We have the most skewed form of socialism where we allow pilfering of national wealth though out NREGA and social schemes and national talent drained via reservation policy.

Our democracy allows us to elect the most inept people at the helm of govt.

Our capitalim is a visiously crony which has resulted in destroying our environment,forests and minerals and stashing of wealth in swiss bank.

Our secularism is vastly pseudo where singing Vande Mataram is considered communalism and following religion nationality is considered secularim.

Our national ethos is about graft and venality.

We continue to follow archaic land aquisition policy and kill farmers .

We take pride in putting to jails innocent sadhus who protest against corruption.

Indeed we are a nation to be beckoned

SALIM said...

I don't agree with any of your comments. It's absurd to compare INDIA with CHINA which is a second class country by all means despite its so called high economic growth. The only thing I agree with you is that future surely belongs to India and this for a totally different reason. India was the richest nation on the planet just 300 years ago and so logically it should and must regain its lost status. Comparing with China and talking of high growth doesn't make sense to me. High growth may look good but it brings host of problems. First it fuels high inflation which hits poor people very badly. Another problem is that very high economic growth has a danger of high intensity recession for a longer period. See Japan: It dipped into recession in 1991 and still hasn't recovered. It's better to have moderate growth to avoid overheating of the economy. Another thing: If personally I'm given an opportunity to choose either to live in a super rich country with Chinese model or to live in one of the most poor country with full fledged democracy then I'll choose the latter one. Why? Because FREEDOM is the most precious thing and no amount of money can be compared with FREEDOM. Indian democracy may make things slower but it's infinitely superior to live in such a society which values freedom. Don't compare INDIA with CHINA, it's an insult. Compare INDIA only with other modern democracies.See More

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