[Editorial Analysis] In defence of India’s noisy democracy

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: Comparing development pathways and policies between India and China

Context:

• In the current moment, it is important to be clear why comparisons with China are not only deceptive but also dangerous.

Comparing developmental pathways: :

China:

• China’s developmental pathway over the last century has been spectacular.

• No country in history has ever grown faster and more dynamically.

• Not only have hundreds of millions been lifted out of poverty, but social indicators have improved dramatically.

INDIA: :

India’s developmental record has been much more mixed: :

• Since the 1990s, the Indian economy has grown impressively, but it remains far behind China in its global competitiveness.

• Poverty has come down, but employment prospects for the majority remain limited to low-wage informal sector jobs.

• India has actually fallen behind Bangladesh and Pakistan in improving basic social development indicators.

Alleged reason for India’s low developmental growth: :

• Few sections of the society claim that India’s problem is that it is just too democratic.

• Unlike China, making and implementing key decisions about public investment and various reforms is impossible in the din of multiple and contradictory democratic voices.

• Hence, there has been a demand for firmer and more independent forms of decision-making that are insulated from this cacophony.

Against such claims: :

• The claim that less democracy is good for development does not stand up to comparative, theoretical and ethical scrutiny.

• Contrary to those who believe economic management cannot be left to the whims of democratic forces, the comparative evidence clearly shows that democratic regimes have on balance performed better than non-democratic regimes.

Understanding using examples: :

• While China, with a history of state-building going back two millennia, and an exceptionally well-organised, disciplined and brutal form of authoritarianism, has done especially well in transforming its economy.

• Africa and West Asia, where authoritarian governments of every stripe have dominated, remain world economic laggards.

• The Latin American military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s had a terrible economic and social record.

• Later it was only with the return of democracy and the “pink wave” of Left populist parties that prosperity and social progress were ushered in.
• At first, the economic take-offs of Taiwan and South Korea happened under military regimes and relied on labour repression.

• But their transitions to democracy saw their economies move up to the next level and become much more inclusive.

Examples from India: :

• Most pointedly though, one only has to look within India itself can help in understanding how development and democracy can thrive together.

• Kerala and Tamil Nadu have done more to improve the lives of all their citizens across castes and classes than any other States in India

• It is no coincidence that both have also had the longest and most sustained popular democratic movements and intense party competition in the country.

• In contrast, in Gujarat, where single party rule has been in place for nearly a quarter century, growth has been solid but accompanied by increased social exclusion and stagnation in educational achievement and poverty reduction.

• Hence, the comparative record proves that democracies are better at promoting inclusive growth.

• The theory behind the authoritarian fantasy also does not hold up, as it is based on presumption:

• That those in command will serve the general interest rather than catering to the powerful, that they enjoy such autonomy and they actually know what to do with it. But based on practical evidence these presumptions are flawed.

• On the contrary, democracies are in fact more likely to meet the necessary conditions for successful decision making via elected representatives.

In favour of democracy: :

• The conflicts and noise that democracy generates may complicate things, but in the end, it allows us to respond to a broad spectrum of interests and identities.

• Democracy not only protects against catastrophic decisions, but also allows for forms of negotiation and compromise that can bridge across interests and even balance otherwise conflicting imperatives for growth, justice, sustainability and social inclusion.

• Thus, the common good cannot and should not be determined by science, profits, technocrats or autocratic fiat. What it is and how we get there can only emerge out of sustained societal deliberation.

Conclusion:

• India’s tryst with democracy was born not only of its liberation movement but also it is ethically unique- it promotes equality by endowing all citizens with the same civic, political and social rights even as it protects and nurtures individuality and difference.

• Also, India’s democracy has opened social and political spaces for subordinate groups and has built a sense of shared identity and belonging in the world’s largest and most diverse society.

• It has preserved individual liberties, group identities, and religious and thought freedoms.

• On the other hand, China’s developmental success includes the human cost due to:

1. famine that took some 35 million lives,
2. a cultural revolution that made enemies out of neighbours,
3. a one child policy that devastated families and erased a generation
4. the violent, systematic repression of the Uyghur Muslim and Tibetan minorities.

• Thus, the China-India comparison is so problematic, indeed unconscionable.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Maitree super thermal power project, consider the following statements:

1. It is a 1,320MW coal-fired power station under construction in Rampal, Bangladesh.

2. The power plant is being developed by Bangladesh India Friendship Power Company (BIFPCL), a 70:30 joint venture between India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB).

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A

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