One is forced to ponder over the spectacular rise of a nation that was so similar to us, perhaps even worse off, only four decades ago. China today is far beyond our reach and the gaping difference continues to widen.
India had all the ingredients for success — a youthful population, abundant natural and cheap human resources. Most importantly, we had what promised to be our edge over China, a system that the British gave us like dowry (unwillingly and just for the sake of it) but we accepted as bequest (with pride and pomp) — democracy.
And yet, we continue sluggishly trying to become another economic wonder, languishing
and falling every couple of years, then with a sudden surge registering a year or two of
strong growth, only to fall back into the vicious cycle that now appears to be our destiny.
In comparison, our neighbour has grown at an average of 10 per cent per annum in the past four decades. It has been a while since we rid ourselves of the ‘Hindu rate of growth’. But the spasmodic growth pattern that has existed for three decades calls for a different nomenclature — a novel but not so creative way could be the ‘Hindu pattern of growth’.
The pre-1991 economic stagnation (Hindu rate of growth), has been unanimously attributed to the protectionist and anti-liberal economics that drew inspiration from Nehruvian socialism and almost appeared to be its extension. But the post-1991 era allows people to conveniently choose from a buffet of reasons for why India has been left so far behind in the economic race.
Democracy has let us down
I, however, am convinced that ‘democracy’ has let us down.
We have celebrated this flawed system like no other country comparable to our size and diversity has. We were handed this lemon of a mechanism and we surfeited on the lemonade but alas, our thirst seems unquenchable.
In the 30 years since 1991, India has elected seven prime ministers. On average (4.2 years each) they do not even qualify as single-term prime ministers. Compare this with the sturdy Chinese government, and we begin to discover the source of our woes. China has had just 3 presidents since its first election after 1991. What is noteworthy is that these presidents belonged to one political outfit, hence elections just transferred leadership, the ideology and blueprint for the nation’s growth remained unfazed.
Elections must do exactly that: they must be like the passing of a baton, while direction and track remain unhindered. On the contrary, in India, a new party at the apex changes the entire sport.
We started with a Left-leaning Congress in 1991 with surprisingly liberal economic policies,
then came the hardcore Right-wing BJP that paradoxically had a socialist bend of mind (a
plausible explanation could be the RSS’ influence). And no one really knew what the United
Front’s ideological cocktail was.
What is important to note is how often India’s fortune (or misfortune) has been left at the
whim and fancy of feeble and fickle political groups. Ideologically confused groups of people with selfish motives have done our economy no good.
Political mechanisms are not one shoe fit for all
India’s shambolic history of democracy is not her people’s fault. All systems come with
overload limits, and in a geographically humongous country with 1.4 billion inhabitants, and diversity to an extend that it be dubbed a ‘subcontinent’, democracy stands no chance.
The second-largest democracy, the US, has only a quarter of our population, despite this, we can freshly remember it floundering and only barely managing to stay afloat as a democracy. Political mechanisms are not one shoe fit all items, large nations cannot wish to replicate democracy’s success in small nations.
The long and short of it is that India and China started off as poor nations, and such nations cannot look inwards for economic growth. They rely on external or foreign capital to feed their resources and kick the ball rolling.
China did this well. Decades of perpetual FDI growth has resulted in widespread prosperity,
economic pace, and elimination of poverty. The rich Western nations, the ‘model
democracies’ that squirm even at the sound of the word ‘authoritarianism’, the nations
whose media cronies relegate India in the Freedom Index, these nations fuelled China’s rise
and own most of its $1.7 trillion FDI stock.
Why? Because everyone likes the idea of democracy and freedom but they like the idea of sure money even better.
China’s authoritarian yet astute and forward-looking leadership has conjured economic
miracles, like building the greatest infrastructure, giving the unsurpassable US
economy a run for its money and lifting 850 million people out of poverty.
They have sustained China for over four decades as a reliable paradise for investment, innovation, and advancement.
Truth be told, China has grown not despite the ‘lack of democracy’ but because of it.
Jaydeep Sharma is a student of University of Sydney, Australia
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