Tuesday, July 5, 2011

India’s democratic edge over China

China and India – the two Asian giants are busy talking economy with the West. While the two economies have successfully accelerated the process of globalisation and diverted international economics to the region India continuous to suffer from corruption on the home turf and Chine faces international community over its human rights records. Despite this, what is it that keeps China ahead of India in the economic race? And, why would the latter will emerge as the better option?

To the envy of many developing countries, China has in last 25 years lifted millions out of poverty, engaged continents economically, built a credible military force with strong and stable economy and is home to technological and infrastructural development. And, with ‘Four NO’s’ i.e. no hegemony, no power politics, no military alliance and no arms race – China has spread its charm offensive and become popular. This soothing image of China has blurred the image of many across the world.

But the fact remains that China is an authoritarian state that oppresses its citizens, continuous to detain political prisoners from Tibet and arrest artists and journalists. While India is a born democracy with relatively better human rights record and freedom of press. And, above all India is home to the Tibet’s government in exile.

As China continuous to please the international community with its economy, the soothing scenario of Chinese economy offers hope to many in the West about opening of its political system for possible future transformation. It is fashionable to remind China about democracy and human rights in mainland while signing trade agreements with the latter or fighting elections. Last week in London the British PM David Cameron reminded his Chinese counterpart about human rights abuse, democracy and violation of intellectual property rights. Former British PM Tony Blair in 2005 said, “There is unstoppable momentum towards democracy in China.” While in 1999 President George Bush called for economic freedom to form habits for liberty.

There is optimism in these Western views that few years from now China with powerful and vibrant economy as today will succeed in becoming a democratic state with freedom for its press and respect for human rights. But China’s political system is still Leninist, run by communist party in hierarchical ascending circles with a central committee. As the country’s communist party is marking 90th birthday poverty is rampant outside Shanghai and Beijing.

But behind the hope of China transforming politically, which is based on the soothing image rest its credible military might with strong economy unlike its communist predecessor Soviet Union who was a strong military power, but with weak economic base. Recent Chinese military advancement on sea, land and space has raised many eyebrows questioning Chinese intensions.

In a leaked cable from WikiLeaks recently revealed that China is hiding its military strength and intensions. The cable further stated that the trend of China's military modernisation is beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan. Arguably China already poses a credible threat to modern militaries operating in the region and will present an even more formidable challenge as its modernisation continues.

But the bright side of Chinese modernisation is that the country’s leadership cannot afford to throw its millions of people back to poverty. And for further development of its economy China would require the West and the institutions that the latter built. In other words, China’s road to development runs through the West, which is democratic. However, no member of the international community would want to see China democratising only to descend into chaos. This could complicate the situation by China adopting stricter approach towards human rights and creating hindrances in the process of globalisation. It is clearly understandable that why the West would not want to risk the world order.

This offers China the strategic advantage over its Western countries, but India as the world's largest democracy has the inherent benefit over China. Indian democracy works because it welcomes everyone into its big tent - a habit that it developed during the years of its freedom struggle. The power and durability of the Indian ballot is significant. This has helped India survive its brief flirtation with authoritarian rule between 1975-77. While China's economy soars, in India growth may have been slow, but over a period of time it is certain and sustainable because of its democracy. Therefore, the political yoga by Baba Ramdev and fast unto death by Gandhian Anna Hazare - the Indian society is working to make Indian democracy function better for more progress.

The future is not just the growth rate, but human equality. India is neither East nor West, but a country that reflects universalism. It is the first modern nation of the emerging world where everything, but democracy rules.

Photo credit: Google Images.

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