Monday, July 18, 2011

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism: The India-China Story

Ann Raymond

As China continues its superb run as a global super power in the reckoning, comparisons between India and China, the two emerging forces to reckon with, are hard to resist. Since the introduction of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1978, China has become the world’s fastest growing economy, largest exporter, and second largest economy in terms of both nominal income and purchasing power parity. However, it’s not just mind boggling growth figures that China offers. In terms of social development indicators also, China is far ahead of India.

Despite all these achievements, China has been and still remains a largely authoritarian state with heavy restrictions being imposed on several areas including the media, freedom of assembly, family planning and freedom of religion. India, on the other hand, takes pride in its democratic structure including its many political parties, free elections, uncensored media and freedom of speech among other features. India has the widest collection of newspapers circulating each day, with a variety of perspectives on crucial issues. Also, we have at least 360 independent TV stations, which are vastly different from the lack of variation in opinion exhibited by the very few news channels in China.

The functioning of the government is also reflected in the use of trial and punishment including capital punishment. China often executes more people in a week than what India has since our independence. In a democratic setup, several social maladies can be corrected if there is sufficient public outcry so that it turns into a politically important issue compelling the government to take action. But there is no scope for expressing dissent in a country like China as is evident from the disastrous consequences of the Chinese famine of 1959-62. The event assumed catastrophic proportions due to the lack of public pressure against a government whose policies were heading in the wrong direction.

China had a very clear idea of where it intended to reach, which was found to be absent in India. But there arises the argument that this was possible as there was just one opinion, which was the government’s. On the other hand, in India, a veritable melting pot of cultures, it was hard to come to a consensus as the government had to listen to several different communities who were bound to have varied opinions and also since the people played such an active role in the decision making process.

There is strong condemnation against China’s ‘One Child Policy’ and the crackdown on independent candidates, who were intending to contest the elections. On the one hand, there is the simmering discontent among the Chinese public, which will one day explode and have disastrous consequences. On the other, there is the argument that as long as people are getting their wages and living a comfortable life, such a situation will not occur.
The Communist Party of China had begun to understand that change is inevitable and they are planning to introduce reforms, which would reduce the autocratic nature of the State. Moreover, they are becoming more tolerant toward the Confucian ideals, which the State used to vehemently oppose before. Whatever it may be, China had to be applauded for their intelligent policy making, especially when it came to foreign diplomacy. That is one aspect that India could imbibe from China. Also, if China is having a rethink, we can hope for a marginal improvement in the authoritarian nature of the government, even if it’ll take years for their citizens to attain the sort of freedom we Indians enjoy.