Will India catch up with China?

Following article is translated by K Chew from an article written by Song Luzheng (宋鲁郑) that appears in Chinese website: http://article.m4.cn/world/powergame/1102730.shtml

The original title is 印度凭什么赶上中国?


China and India are among the four great ancient civilizations of the world. They have the biggest largest population as well as huge territories. Both sides encountered Western invasion and colonization. Both countries regain control and achieved independent status after the second world war, starting at basically the same level of development (in 1949 India was slightly ahead of China – and this is the first time in the history of China lagged India). Of course there are also differences, such as India was fully colonized, while China did have formal sovereignty.

After the West withdrew, it left India with two babies: the English language and democracy. Meanwhile China moved toward the Soviet model of socialism. While both countries adopted different government system, coincidentally both used the planned economy. Under the planned economy, developments in both countries lagged behind much of the world, especially when China experienced ten years of Cultural Revolution. After Mao Zedong passed away, China was still slightly ahead of India. It does appear that the two treasures left by the West (British) for India did not have anticipated impact.

In 1978, China entered the era of market-oriented reform and opening up. The Chinese economy then advanced by leaps and bound, leaving India far behind , overtaking the large economies of England, France, Germany, Japan and recently become the world’s second-largest economy. In the next 10 to 20 years, Chinese economy will also overtake the United States economy, and revert back to the previous global position as the world top economy. In the case of India, it began to abandon the planned economy in the 1990s, and carried out market economy reform. However, this shows that the much vaunted self- correcting capability of the democratic system left behind by the West (British) , is of much lesser capability that the one in China.

Today, the Indian economy is only a quarter of the size of Chinese economy, and the gap is not narrowing but widening over the years (2006 to 2009, the GDP gap ratio between China and India are: 2.94 times, twice, and 2.91 times , 4 times ). Meanwhile China is on its way to surpassing the US economy, where the gap is getting smaller, in clear contrast to India. Indian economic structure is strange, and is unusual in the history of the economic development: the manufacturing and agricultural industries lag behind the service industry.

In addition to the widely used GDP, there are also other indicators on social development which show India lags far behind China: it has more serious corruption than China (corruption in India is like this: if only the Central authority is satisfied then local level will not be satisfied, if placate the Government only then the legislators are not satisfied , and when all appear to be satisfied, elections will appear). The illiteracy rate is about 33%, whereas China has only 4%. The population under poverty level is 33% (this is the India official standards, which is lower than the a dollar a day of United Nations standard), or up to 450 million people. The figure for China according the UN criteria is 100 million and based on China’s own standard, the figure is about 20 over million. 43.5% of children of 5 years or younger in India have severe malnutrition, higher than the proportion in Africa. Indian life expectancy is only 64 years, far below the age of 73 for China. Despite having their votes, the people in India are still famished and without roof over the heads. And when it comes to infrastructure construction, India is very far behind China.

Using the standard of the modern civilization, the most shocking feature of India today is the fact that extensive and deep-rooted caste system and severe discrimination against women still exist. India currently has more than 150 million Dalits, who are considered as the untouchable. Low caste people face serious discrimination. The following tragedy illustrate this: in May this year in Jharkhand , a Congress Party legislator’s daughter was in love with a young man from lower caste background. In order to protect the family honour, the legislator incited others to kill the young man. This is honour killing. Even well-educated, elected legislators are involved, and one shudders to think when it comes to the ordinary people. As for the discrimination faced by women, it can be verified by following example: on April 1, 2010, India finally promulgated the law on children’s right to free compulsory education, and thus for the first time provide legal basis for the right to education among girls.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is also poor, under-developed, corrupted and has serious ethnic conflicts. What is the root cause of this state of affair? It is widespread, and one needs to look at the system itself to seek the reasons.

First, we’ll take a look at why the Western democratic system is successful. The system undertook hundreds of years of evolution: from renaissance, reformation, nation states, the industrial revolution and urbanization (the urban population in Britain exceeded the rural population in 1851, but in India today more than 70% of people live in rural areas), the age of colonization and gradual expansion of the right to vote. In short, the typical features of democratic system like multi-parties and universal suffrage were never implemented prior to industrialization. Of countries that implemented the Western democratic system before industrialization, none has been successful. This was the main reason why the democratic system in India performed badly.

Given the highly under-developed socio- economic stage of development, the early adoption of the democratic system led to a series of problems which India is unable to solve.

India faces major challenges in regards to population explosion. Presently India has more than 1.2 billion people, and in less than 20 years this will exceed the population of China. However, Indian land area is about one-third of China. Imagine more than 1.3 billion people of China squeezed into an area reduced by two-third – I’m afraid Chinese resources cannot sustain such population and the capacity limit will be broken, and there will be global flow of refugees. India is a step closer to this reality.

Despite Indian economy taking off at the beginning of the 1990s, the unemployment rate is still growing, which is a rare exception in the history of the world economic development. From global perspective, when the path of economic development faces serious population issue, the most important way is to resolve the issue through family planning. But under Indian democratic system, whichever political party introduces family planning policy is bound to lose power in the election. Hence until there is a political party that has the courage to make difficult decisions that may seem run contrary to popular opinion, one can only watch the population in India exceeding 1 billion, 1.1 billion, 1.2 billion or so until it is doomed one day. Clearly the democratic system is not able to tackle the population explosion crisis, and might actually hinder the crisis from being resolved.

India is a predominantly Hindu country. We do know that no religion has been free from ignorant. For instance, Christianity experienced 1000 years of dark period during the middle age. Fortunately religious reformation took place in the West, where Christianity basically reformed for the better. Caste system is the biggest problem in Hinduism. It did not undertake religious reform like in the West. Even though the caste system is legally abolished, the existence is manifested in the daily lives and interactions of the people. The caste system arises as a political and economic system, and it has hugely negative impact on Indians. For instance, the caste system permits only people of same caste to work together. It denies the opportunities for ordinary people from working towards improving their circumstances. Therefore it is not possible to establish large scale efforts that require huge labours to work together in industries. In rural India, people of different caste lived in different areas of the same village. In addition to the untouchable class, there are four major classes and over 1500 sub-classes, which serve to differentiate people into different categories of employment and ways of thinking. This hinders the implementation of large-scale industrialization. Meanwhile the politicians in the democratic system of India are afraid to antagonize these religious forces, and instead depend on their support to win votes.

Given the large population of India, the biggest resource is the cheap and abundant manpower. Therefore, from the viewpoint of enhancing employment given the comparative global advantages that India possesses, an all out effort in the development of secondary industry (light and heavy manufacturing industries) is the logical thing to do. Unexpectedly though, India chose the development of computer software industry which requires high intellectual input and high capital investment. However the software industrial supply chain is a very short, and does not have the necessary pulling power to address the mass unemployment issue. Again, the reason is due to the democratic system. In order to develop secondary industries, excellent infrastructures and large pool of available manpower are required. However building an expressway in India is an almost impossible task. As long as someone does not agree with the demolition and relocation, the expressway plan fell through. This is the reason why till now India has only a single expressway. The lack of electrical power generation is also due to same reason. These seriously restrict the development of manufacturing industry in India.

Why are there numerous large slums in India? One of the reasons is that there is private ownership of land in India. In places where available land is scare due to huge population, land annexation has becomes serious issue, causing many peasants to flock into the city. The human history of urbanization is obviously accompanied by industrialization. However, in India the system is unable to address the poor infrastructure as well as the caste system issues, and thereby unable to remove the impediments to the industrialization process. As a result, manufacturing industry remains weak, and basically it is unable to absorb people who have flocked to the cities.

India has private land ownership and democratic system, and the cultivated land area is greater than China. However it is unable to provide adequate food and clothing for the people. According to the Global Hunger Index published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, headquartered in Washington, India ranks 66th in the 88 countries assessed, while China is ranked 15. Those countries that rank below 30 have serious hunger problem that need to immediate response. One of the reasons for the backward condition of Indian agriculture is also related to the democratic system: local officials tend to provide farmers with short term aids in order to win votes, but are not willing to carry out longer-term comprehensive investments like water irrigations. Xu Cheng-gang, Professor of Economics at the University of Hong Kong who had repeatedly advocated land privatization and political democratization in China, may wish to take a look at today’s India.

As a consequence of the ongoing religious as well as ethnic conflicts, India has been unable to effectively maintain political and social stability. Two scholars from European Union (NICOLA GNESOTTO-an international experts on security, the first president of the Institute of Security, GIOVANNI GREVI- EU Security Research Institute researcher) co-authored a book “The world in 2025”. They predict India’s first challenge is political and social stability, followed by population, economic growth and investment issues. It has more than 60 years of democratization and by 2025 will attain nearly 80 years as a democratic state, but political instability and under developement are the greatest challenges! (France current affairs magazine The New Observer, also gave India’s country risk rating at level 5 – the highest six, five-and six-level to high risk countries. China’s rating is four).

Poverty, backward infrastructures, serious corruptions, ethnic and religious conflicts, have not really diminished the shine of India as seen by the West. The latest one to reveal that is the New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, who believes that India will overtake China due to following three reasons:

Firstly, India has independent news media and grassroots civic organizations, which provide the supervisory mechanism to gradually rectify corruptions and inefficiencies in the system. He believes that government corruption in India has reached its highest point, and the trend is weakening, while in China the corruption problem is worsening.

But Nicholas Kristof does not explain why India despite having more than 60 years of press freedom and independent civic organizations is unable to shake of serious corruptions, and why he thinks they are now able to play effective role. Kristof might have forgotten that Iceland went bankrupt during the global financial crisis. The economic freedom in Iceland and the United Kingdom are tied fifth (2008 Switzerland School of management),is ranked the second best in the world in terms of democratic system (2007 United Kingdom, Economist), is top in world press freedom index (2007 Reporters Without borders). Despite having such immaculate credentials in the eyes of the West, Iceland became the first country to go bust after being hit by US toxic bonds during the global financial crisis. Kristof can hardly explain this matter.

If Kristof really look at the history of his own country (the United States) during the economic take-off stage, there are problems of serious corruption (as well as serious food hygiene, environmental pollution, mining, large-scale mass incidents and military repression too). Why didn’t the free media in US played effective role then? In fact, the real source of corruption is poverty. Transparency International ranking also confirm this: Rich countries are less corrupted, corruption level is high in poor countries. There is not much correlation in term of system of governance, with Haiti, Iraq, and Afghanistan being ranked the most corrupt countries.

According to Transparency International, the ranking for China in the last 10 years has improved (while Kristof has opposite conclusion), and this corresponded with more than 10 years of rapid economic development in China. If India cannot solve poverty problem, it will never get rid of serious corruption problem. Kristof failed to notice the sharp decline in Indian corruption ranking which is related to serious briberies during elections. Also, towards the end of 2010 there were revelations of losses amounting to US$31 billion from corrupt dealings that lead to Indian telecommunication minister resigning. The minister is from a smaller party of the ruling coalition government. Even thought the media and opposition parties have exposed the matter earlier, the Prime Minister ignored them in the interest of maintaining the coalition government. The reality in India is that democracy has not been effective in curbing corruption; it is part of corruption.

The second reason from Kristof is that India has demographic advantage over China, as Chinese people are aging faster. But the problem is that in order for the population bonus payoff it must have two conditions: First, everyone must have basic universal education. Secondly, there must be large-scale industrialization. Without these two conditions, the demographic bonus is meaningless. Given the high illiteracy and low industrialization in India, how could there be demographic bonus? There will only be population burden. Even though 50% of Indian people are below the age of 30, most of them are jobless (the revolutions in the Middle East occurred under similar circumstances). High illiteracy and poverty could not be overcome by Indian democracy. The caste system and serious discrimination against women result in the low caste people and females receiving little education. According to the statistics, 90% of the Dalits or untouchables are illiterate. There is also another reason for high illiteracy: the local governments find that it is easier to control and influence illiterate voters and therefore there are little incentives to improve the illiteracy level.

The third reason cited by Kristof is that ethnic and religious conflicts in India are beginning to ease, while the problem is worsening in China.

It seems Kristof choose to ignore the quantity as well as the quality aspects of such conflicts that can arise in China and India. Chinese has atheism through its history, and thus did not experience religious persecutions or religious wars as in the West. China usually held tolerant and lenient attitude towards different religious beliefs. In India the interaction between different religions have been accumulated throughout Indian history and are thus completely different such that– a previous Prime Minister of India was killed by a bodyguard of different religious belief reflects the difficult challenges that exist in avoiding religious conflicts in India today. In addition, China has only 20 million Muslim population (the history of Islam), but India has 120 million. As for the Tibet which is of particular concern of the West, there are only 3 million people in Tibet. In Xinjiang, the Uighur population is 10 million, when compared with the 1.3 billion people of China is a truly small proportion. Therefore from the size perspective, China has far less challenges in ethnic conflicts than India. Most importantly is that many of sources of the problem come from economic issues. The increasingly stronger Chinese economy provides much greater leeway in solving the problems.

On whether democratic India is able to catch up with China, one should look at the comparative history of China, India and Russia. Throughout history, China had been ahead of the India, but it came behind India for the first time during the Western democratic system of the Republic of China era. Russia was ahead of China during the Tsar era, and during the Soviet Union era it went even further ahead of China. Before the collapsed of the Soviet Union, the GDP was four times that of China. But in the 1990s era of Yeltsin democratic government, Russia plummeted and has yet to recover from the fall. Today, the Chinese GDP is already five times of Russian GDP! Historical facts may be summarized as follows: Having democratic system in China caused it to be behind India for the first time in history; the implementation of Russia democratic system in Russia caused it to be behind China for the first time in modern era!; after the end of the Republic of China era, China- has surpassed India and Russia. In the foreseeable future it is difficult to contemplate these countries overtaking China.

Liberals (in China) may not recognize this fact and logic. Assuming the contrary, that is during the Republican era China surpasses both India and Russia, and during the PRC era China fell behind India and Russia – will the liberals fail to recognize this logic and truth? One should ask this simple: with two starting points for the country that is 60 years apart, where one is far behind the other – isn’t this due to the system of governance?

India is unable to catch up with China due to the premature implementation of Western democratic system that restricts itself from solving wide range of problems. As a result of being colonized, it inherited many things left behind by the departed British colonial master. In the whole world we can actually see at a glance whether the colonists left stability and development or chaos. Once a country has implemented democratic system, it is extremely difficult to get rid of it unless the country experienced ruin of catastrophic proportion, such as in the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China, and the Yeltsin era of Russia. The establishment of democratic system in the West led to countless bloodsheds, wars and violent struggles. In the 60 years period of modern India however, nearly all political successions have been inherited, or through competition between sons, daughters, widows and son-in-laws of political leaders. The ordeal that Indians experience with the democratic system is not likely to end soon.

Finally, due to the dismal view of India that is far from a shining example of Western democratic system, certain scholars have removed India from the rank of democratic states. Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, Sarmila Bose in “Thai Ur News ?” claims that India is not a democracy – it is a competitive authoritarian state, where the authoritarian power is formalized by way of elections to seek legitimacy. Whether this is ‘fair’ description or forever requiring changes to the meaning, India does accepts the democratic credential. In fact, no matter from which angle that one interprets, one gets the same main idea: whether India is a real democracy or not, the system cannot be considered as successful.


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
This entry was posted in China view, India and China. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Will India catch up with China?

  1. V. Rajagopal says:

    The Chinese author should realise that people should enjoy fruits of development and not the state dictators. He also ignored the resilience of Indian economy which is driven by domestic demand and supply. China may be ahead of 4 times in some respects, but lag 100 time far behind than India in core areas- people’s liberty. In India the people have the liberty where as in China the government has the liberty. Mr. Kchew, please remember this is a serious disease requiring long term treatment.

  2. kchew says:

    Rajagopal, I do have problem with the vague concept of liberty. It means different thing to different people. Some people think that it means the right to cast vote as liberty, while others may think that same sex marriage as liberty. And to some people liberty means having regular elections where the elcted politicians then engage in endless debates, without really any apparent impact on improving the livelyhood of the people.

    I think by far the most important liberty is freedom from poverty, and in this respect the Chinese leadership and the people have certaintly performed remarkebly well in last 30 years. If you can alleviate people from poverty, then you would give them back their dignities.

  3. Chris says:

    Well, India people are happy to have the freedom of voting and freedom poverty. At least India has one Number tow in the world to demonstrate to the world: largest democrat country and largest poverty country in the world.

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