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Fallacy of too much democracy: No economic freedoms can thrive without political freedoms

We hold China in awe because it has a per capita GDP five times India’s. But the history of economic and democratic growth coincides almost everywhere else.

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There is no point debating what exactly NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant meant when he said “we are too much of a democracy”.

You can go with those who were outraged and saw this as a statement of the Modi government’s concept of limited democracy, delivered vicariously through an articulate civil servant.

Or, you could be persuaded by Kant’s own op-ed in The Indian Express this Thursday. He argued that he was misunderstood and misconstrued, while all he wanted to say was that you cannot compare the speed of India’s reform with China’s because “we are too much of a democracy”.

Of course, you could also listen to both sides. But that, “both sides”, is such a triggering expression these days. So I get off the kerb.

Other important questions emerge from this. Is democracy good for economic growth or bad? How much democracy is good, and when does it become too much? Is there such a thing as limited democracy?

Almost two decades ago, I found myself caught in this debate in an Asia Society conference in New Delhi, where I was on a panel with the voluble Ronnie Chan, the formidable real estate and philanthropist ‘tai-pan’ from Hong Kong and owner of Hang Lung Group. He was then investing big time in China, especially in Shanghai’s redevelopment. The audience asked when he would bring his investments into India.

Ronnie was forthright: I won’t bring any investment here, because you are too much of a democracy. If you were less so, I might. This lit a fire under the audience. But, the facts and figures were with Ronnie. China was booming, and India struggling after the first flush of 1991 reforms.

The issue was, however, settled by the Japanese ambassador, sitting in the front row. “Isn’t Japan the world’s greatest economic miracle since World War II devastated us? And we’ve been a full democracy.”


Also read: Too little democracy is why India’s reforms and progress are stymied


 

And then the penny dropped. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan — many economic miracles had preceded China’s. Some, like Japan, started out as fledgling democracies and became even more so as they grew.

The others like South Korea and Taiwan emerged from their own fratricidal post-WWII conflicts and started out as dictatorships. But, as their economies grew and people got better informed, they democratised in a manner so dramatic that a millennial (which is 70 per cent of Indians) who isn’t a specialist of that region or preparing for UPSC, can’t imagine a South Korea under Park Chung-hee (1963-79) and Taiwan under Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his son until 1988.

These three are now the shining lights of democracy in eastern Asia, in the front yard of China. Two (Japan and Taiwan) thumbing their noses at it, and the third (South Korea) at odds with its second nuclear-weapon protectorate after Pakistan: North Korea. All three also tell you that there is no contradiction between economic growth and democracy. And that as economies and societies grow, they yearn for more democracy, not less.

But what about the Chinese then? Quite unlike the statutory warning in mutual fund advertising, when it comes to the fate of nations, the past is an excellent guide to future performance. The China of today is no democracy, but it is a far cry from what it was until Deng Xiaoping began to loosen things up.

Xi Jinping, if anything, has reversed the clock. As he rolls back the few freedoms that were growing, much to China’s economic benefit, his challenges are increasing. For evidence, see his latest document on his version of ‘atmanirbhar Cheen’ as he prepares his mighty nation in his own image of a super-power and a fresh Cold War. His throttling of China’s incipient democratic urge will set its economy back, not further it.

We hold China in awe because having started at about the same level as us four decades ago, it now has a per capita GDP five times India’s, and the gap is increasing. But it dwarfs in comparison with its tiny peers in eastern Asia. Taiwan, which is China by another name, is two and a half times its per capita GDP, and South Korea, more than three times.

Whether those countries have paid a penalty for “too much democracy” or reaped a dividend from it, you can decide. Those are also the two countries globally acknowledged to have handled the pandemic the best. With figures everybody trusts. And we can close this part of the argument by also looking at the wealth and fame of Ronnie Chan, who had started this argument, which was also built in the world’s most remarkable growth engine, little Hong Kong. It boomed as a noisy “too much” democracy, in spite of technically being a part of China.

Optimists had believed that with the merger, Hong Kong would change China more than the other way around. Under Xi, it all changed. Watch him now strangle its democracy, institutions, creative and entrepreneurial energy. Its best minds and businesses are shifting West.


Also read: Why the US is a model of how not to be a democracy


 

There is a vocal constituency of educated, well-to-do, articulate Indian elites who would rather go with the idea that too much democracy is a liability. That India needs a spell of benevolent dictatorship. Of course, they’ve never lived under one. Even the Emergency was just 19 months long, and ended 43 years ago.

Look at Singapore, they’d say. They adore it. You are safe, the rule of law works, you aren’t bothered about any politics, there’s continuity, and it’s OK if the laws are a bit draconian on some fun indiscretions of life. So what if you can’t live by that eternal Americanism of walking and chewing gum at the same time, in the dread of fine and jail?

The history of economic and democratic growth coincides in almost all parts of the world, with the China exception, and it is now our wager that it is losing momentum. Russia blew its post-Communist economic dividend by choosing to be a new kind of dictatorship. European peers one-fourth its size have economies bigger than it, never mind its oil, minerals, and megatonnage of its nukes and armament industry.

Iran and Iraq, relatively small populations with humongous hydrocarbon reserves, could be richer than Europe. Each also is the child of a great ancient civilisation — Persian and Mesopotamian. But both have wasted generations in conflict, under sanctions; their people in many ways worse off than those in the much poorer third world countries. Will they blame too much democracy for this, or too little? Would a democracy have allowed a Shah, a Saddam or the Ayatollahs to hold sway through decades, burning the oil wealth? Erdogan, elected ruler in Turkey in a free, fair and legitimate election, decided that so much democracy was not good and shifted into reverse gear. So did his booming economy.

In conclusion, I go back to that travelling reporter’s favourite stereotype: The wisdom of the taxi driver. Mine in Prague in January 1990, when I was covering the unravelling of the Eastern Bloc, was an unemployed computer engineer. He cursed the Communists bitterly. I told him how, in my country, they were still winning elections in some states. That is, he said, because you never lived under Communism or dictators.

But we had the Emergency, I said.

That’s a good point, he said. The Emergency took away your political freedoms, so you realised what you had lost and fought back to restore them. You’ve never enjoyed economic freedoms, so you have no idea what you are losing, and might lose further with the Communists. We Czechs know. We had full economic freedoms until the Communists came.

We finished that conversation when I reached my hotel in Wenceslas Square. There was a crimson banner hanging from the roof of a building, reaching the street. It read, in golden letters, ‘Welcome Home, Mr Bata’. Thomas Bata was a Czech entrepreneur who built a multinational footwear empire. Then came the Communists and nationalised everything, and he went into exile in Canada. Now, Vaclav Havel had thrown the Communists out, and Bata was back home. No economic freedoms can survive without political freedoms, you see. More the democracy, greater the entrepreneurial energy and economic growth.


Also read: What will replace the first Indian republic? Three journeys democracy can take now


 

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55 COMMENTS

  1. All three countries, Japan, Korea and Taiwan are basically small, homogeneous societies, with the same ethnicity, language, religion, etc. They also had the largesse of Uncle Sam girding their economy, providing technology and untrammeled access to US markets. They weren’t that “democratic” to start out but all had a unity of purpose and worked towards that goal. Also, these countries jettisoned most of their traditional mores and taboos in favor of a more modernist society.
    The same cannot be said for India, which is huge, balkanized and diverse on so many levels, from ethnicity, language, religion, caste etc., and suffering one catastrophe after the other, starting with partition right on down, made worse by its system of destructive, divisive, adversarial politics (democracy) and no sugar-daddy to gird its economy.

  2. Have you been to gulf countries, shekhar gupta. NO political freedoms but absolute economic freedoms. What say?

  3. Freedom comes with responsibility. The left abused freedom in India while oppressing rights in so called communist nations. Why do left journlaists not thrive in any communist statteor socialist state? The reason is when left rules it gives no freedom when it is ruled it abuses freedom. Look at the articles in The Print. Can such a magazine show itself as an example of responsible freedom?

  4. DEMOCRACY & DEVELOPMENT – A CHICKEN AND EGG PROBLEM ?

    I am writing this comment both to Mr Shekhar Gupta’s article and also as a response to views from readers such as Messrs Girish Menon, Rohit Desai, Rabe Benigos etc.

    Sadly, neither Mr Shekar Gupta nor these commenters seem to grasp the complex, convoluted and highly contested notion of economic development and its linkages to the equally complex and nebulous notion of democracy. But more importantly, they all give short shrift to the fact that economic development depends on the tangled, unpredictable and dynamic interplay of several external events, external actors, internal events, internal actors, historical circumstances, demography, internal tensions, geography, colonial history, personalities of politicians etc. etc. such that no 2 countries are likely to follow the same path. Thus, what works for Korea might not work for Kenya; the Chinese template would fail in India; the Singapore model cannot be transplanted to Sri Lanka and the Swiss model might not tick – pun intended – in Spain !

    The chicken and egg dilemma that democracy and development pose is really no dilemma when one broadens the debate to include the specific set of internal and external circumstances that each country faced in the past and continues to face in the present. But alas, both Mr Shekhar Gupta and commenters here oversimplify the debate and conclude that just a single explanatory variable suffices. Thus, we see some preposterous ideas being floated :

    -Mr Shekhar Gupta believes that democracy is the sole pre-requisite for economic growth. Alas, he forgets that whilst democracy may perhaps be a necessary condition for certain aspects of growth, democracy alone does not do the trick. For instance, Yemen’s destruction, leave alone development was caused by the local hegemon Saudi Arabia; civil wars and ethnic tensions have hobbled development in the former Yugoslavia and internal instabilities keep investors away from Pakistan. These are just a few examples of economic development being dependent on other variables than solely democracy.

    -Mr Girish Menon pins his hopes on the old and discredited British notion of mercantilism (I will only export to others but never import from them) and believes that “swadeshi” ideas will save the day. Incidentally, Mr Menon forgets that the term “swadeshi” has been upgraded by PM Modi and is now called “atmanirbhar” ! But that faux pas apart, Mr Menon makes one valid point:powerful countries often dictate the course of events in smaller countries and usually dislike democratic regimes in the less powerful country. Thus, the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown by the CIA in 1953 and a puppet called Mohammad Reza Pehlavi was installed as the Shah of Iran; Chile’s elected leader Salvador Allende was deposed in a CIA engineered coup and General Agusto Pinochet was installed as a dictator in 1973; Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba was removed and suffered a violent death in a coup in 1961, this coup being jointly plotted by the Belgians and the USA and replaced by a kleptocrat called Mobutu – and so on. Clearly, even the paragons of democracy such as the US, UK, France etc. seem to prefer thugs and dictators rather than democracies.

    -Mr Rohit Desai, an ardent Hitler admirer and Hindutva bhakth believes that Adolf Hitler’s Nazism delivered economic growth. Mr Desai writes glowingly about the Führer:

    “.. He created jobs, and everybody had a job! NOT A SINGLE GERMAN MISSED THE FREEDOMS OF THE DEMOCRATIC WEIMAR REPUBLIC OF GERMANY ..”

    Well, this history challenged neo-Nazi cretin forgets that after Hitler’s putsch, Jewish factories and businesses were expropriated by the Nazis, there were boycotts of Jewish businesses, Jews were expelled or forced to flee Germany and many died in the concentration camps or were used as slaves in Nazi factories. Indeed, Hitler ruined Germany and his toxic legacy still haunts not only Germany but also the entire world. But then, many middle-class Indians and lathi wielding RSS “intellectuals” hold Hitler in high esteem and Mr Rohit Desai is perhaps not that much of an outlier after all.

    -Mr Rabe Benigos, who like his neo-Nazi fellow traveller Rohit Desai touts a variant of the authoritarianism first theory. Mr Benigos believes that authoritarianism is the pre-requisite ofr development and once you have that development, then you can mature into a democracy. freedoms. He pontificates:

    “.. Each of these so called democracy started with a lot of authoritarian rules and then relaxed into what they are today “A Mature” democracy ..”

    But this intellectual forgets that authoritarianism does not always lead to growth. But more importantly, regardless of whether growth occurs or not, the autocrat will almost always be unwilling to let democratic freedoms flourish and cede power. The personality cults of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Reccep Erdogan, India’s Narendra Modi, the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, Hungary’s Viktor Orban etc. validate this view.

    Mr Benigos completely forgets that over the last 6 years, India has seen a steady erosion of democratic freedoms and the emergence of an undeclared Emergency under the great Gujarati. And, the Indian economy was in doldrums long before the COVID crisis struck – thanks to some spectacularly inept management of the economy by your Gujarati Messiah. Thus, no correlation between authoritarianism and development Mr Benigos !

    BOTTOMLINE: Economic development in a given country can neither be guaranteed by democracy nor by authoritarianism. Once can argue endlessly as to whether democracy is a pre-requisite for development or whether the reverse i.e. development is a pre-requisite for democracy. But every country is unique and for many nations, a host of internal and external factors and actors shape the trajectory a nation takes. Nonetheless, the historical evidence seems to point out that the authoritarian route may on rare – I re-iterate rare – occasions lead to growth as measured by faulty metrics such as GDP or GDP/Capita. GDP might measure growth but not welfare per se. But in almost all cases, authoritarian governments indulge in violence and human rights violations towards their own citizens making the country itself unstable. And there is no guarantee of growth either.

  5. Excellent article. Only problem is it does not explain the chinese miracle. Although you may be right that their economy will also lose because of the dictatorship.

  6. China developed without privatizing its RAIL,TOLL,METRO,PUBLIC TRANSPORT,SCHOOLS,CEMENT & STEEL INDUSTRY,TELECOM…Kindly STOP FOOLING People.

  7. Previously, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and lately China ‘developed’ and they did it through democracy, dictatorship or communism. However, we must not discount the aspiration of common people were very high. In China, when the Premiers take a dictatorial stand on development, there were protests by common people. But there was also enough people who wanted progress and pushed ahead whether they liked or not. Protests were usually put down by force. But because of that, whole of China didn’t revolt. Some wanted progress. Their numbers and aspirations were far greater force than resistance. Hence they are where they are today. We in India fail to recognize that people, their aspirations and actions are ‘key’ to progress. If this one ingredient is there, some ‘good’ PM will make the country ‘developed’ some day. We Indians must wait for that collective conscience of people to prevail in the middle of favoritism, casts, lack of knowledge, acute problems hindering majority people to think straight. Till then, we have to stay alert and keep educating people towards the greater good.

  8. Hello Mr. Shekhar Gupta,

    I used to be an avid reader of TOI. But over the last few months ever since I discovered your content on youtube platform, I have been drawn to your journalistic insights, so much so that I relly on your analysis for any issue I have difficult understanding. And for that reason I am a paid subscriber because the content is that good!

    Coming to this article, there are 2 many examples of countries that are on either side of the economic spectrum Middle East is primarily dictatorial and yet it is thriving, some of the democracies are not thriving for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, India (to a certain extent).

    My own analysis on this is the underlying fundamentals. Dictatorships rich in resources and on the good side of NATO tend to fair much better. Classic example is Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc and Iran, Syria, etc that are against NATO. Even China for a long time was part of US look east policy and hence experienced rapid growth.

    With respect to democracies, the true democracies with very high ethical standards and accountability are the one that seem to strive. Failed democracies or non-thriving democracies have lower level of transparency, low ethical standards and low educational standards. And by educational standard I dont mean english language skills or math or science skills but more of an emphasis on ethics, education about good governamnce, education about tolerance and high moral standards that seems to be generally neglected.

    In conclusion: A highly developed democracy is based on a high level of transparency and accountability, religious political & press freedom, one which values ethical and fair conduct and one which exacts a heavy price from anyone that tries to break any of the principles. Even if someone promises a corruption free government and provide very little transparency, accountability, religious, political and press freedom true growth can never happen as the people live and work in fear.

  9. the issue is just this :
    whether you bring out reforms, but sacrifice your power (PVNR couldnt get elected again) or
    bring out the reforms and yet come back to govern.
    The NDA/BJP chose the later …. be it CAA, 370 or these reforms, using ordinance route. democracies are not on level playing field with communist regimes. more democratic consultation for these laws invites interference from china, and other competitors (agriculture produce exporting nations)….

  10. We can not compare with that small countries. India is largest democratic country in the world 2nd largest population hundred of
    religion different different thought . How the government satisfy to all.

    • Mr Pravin Sheth: On what basis do you make the preposterous claim:

      “.. India is largest democratic country in the world ..” ?

      Merely holding elections every 4 or 5 years is not what democracy is all about. Democracy in India has seen a steady slide at bot the central and state levels from around the time of Ms Indira Gandhi, accelerating now under Narendra Modi to become a full-fledged autocracy. Indeed, the recent Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) labels India as a “flawed democracy”, see ref: bit.ly/2Kn6YzQ

      India ranks at # 51 in the EIU Democracy Index rankings for 2019 and has actually fallen 10 places compared to 2018. Indeed, under the Narendra Modi reign, democracy in India is a diluted, moth-eaten concept synonymous with upper caste Hindu majority rule with few rights if any for minorities, no equality before the law, dilution of civil liberties and no separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. What is worse, most Indians themelves do not want a democracy preferring instead to let a Gujarati high school run the country as a “benevolent dictator”.

      Sad, but true.

  11. Democracy without regulations quickly turns into mobocracy which creates more bottlenecks than aid the progressive economic reforms. Democracy doesn’t mean to be lenient in enforcing laws but in India it exactly means that. Anti CAA and now farmers protests are not meant to promote economic development but to block economic growth.

    • Mr ak.dev: All democracies are designed to accommodate protests and points of view that run counter to government policy. Indeed, true democracies view protests as an important valve to let out excess steam. Democracies are not intimidated by protests but start dialogues with protesters seeking to identify their grievances. That however is not the case in places like Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey and Modi’s India – to name a few countries that are increasingly autocratic and run by unaccountable strongmen.

      Thus we have had massive protests in India against the imposition of Hindi, the discrimination of Dalits, the safety of women exemplified in the Nirbhaya case, the Nazism inspired CAA laws and now the farmers’ agitations against handing over their future to Modi’s crony capitalist backers. And these protests are perfectly legal although for Modi worshippers do not brook any criticism of their Gujarati Messiah.

      You make the ludicrous claim:

      “.. farmers protests are not meant to promote economic development but to block economic growth ..”

      Well, that begs the question:

      Aren’t farmers not entitled to look after their own economic interests ? Or should only the economic interests of Modi’s crony capitalist backers Adani, Ambani and other corporate bloodsuckers be prioritised at the expense of the humble farmer?

      • CAA/NRC protests had noting to do with Indians but was designed to push the country into riots.
        There are elements in Farmers protests (Genuine farmers do have concerns and govt is talking to them and admitting that not talking to farmers was a mistake) .

        You are making a Unfounded claim that CAA had to do with Nazism? Really? You seem too far from actual reality on the ground. You are too blind in your hate of Modi to think straight..

        It is seen in both of your comments so far, a biased and corrupt opinion mainly formed by clueless liberal smattering of Ignorance peppered with useless jingoism.

        • ‘CAA/NRC protests had noting to do with Indians..’

          But CAA/NRC was designed to put some Indians of a certain religious persuasion behind concentration camps. Hence, the protests.

          ‘You are making a Unfounded claim that CAA had to do with Nazism? ‘

          It is not unfounded. The CAA laws are like the Nuremberg Race Laws. That is how to starts and it escalates. Concentration camps have been built in Assam and more are planned. The news is out in NYT, BBC etc. So who are you bluffing ? The UN Human Rights Declaration was based on Never Again after WW 2.

          You need to get real. The RSS-BJP has written their admiration of Hitler. They are following that. But you will not be able to hide it from the rest of the world in 2020. Hitler’s camps were only found after the Red Army entered Aushcwitz.

          The RSS-BJP is Nazism. Hindu style. The western media is aware, don’t fool yourself. You are a fellow traveller – like many Germans in the 1930s and 1940s. You can forget about India becoming a developed country as fascism did not succeed anywhere and it led to the break up of countries.

          • “CAA laws are like the Nuremberg Race Laws”.

            That is an accurate assessment rasgolla.

            But them should one be surprised at all ? The RSS was inspired by Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s fascism wasn’t it? And text books in Gujarat teach kids to venerate Hitler and denigrate Gandhi, see my comment to Mr Parutosh.

  12. Dear Mr. Gupta

    I believe your thesis on economic history is flawed when you argue that Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have grown because of economic freedoms i.e. I presume you mean free market practices. I have often heard you say that India too should follow free market practices to achieve similar heights. In the above process, the elephant in the room i.e. how China rose with state intervention, has also been ignored.

    Kindly permit me to state a few historical facts extracted from ‘Bad Samaritans The Guilty Secrets of Rich Nations…’ by Ha Joon Chang

    1. When Robert Walpole became the British Prime Minister in 1721 he launched a Swadeshi policy aimed to protect British manufacturing industries from foreign competition, subsidise them and encourage them to export. Tariffs on imported foreign manufactured goods were significantly raised while tariffs on raw materials were lowered. Regulation was introduced to control the quality of manufactured goods so that unscrupulous manufacturers could not damage the reputation of British products in foreign markets. Walpole’s protectionist policies remained in place for the next century, helping British manufacturing industries catch up with and then finally forge ahead of the counterparts on the Continent.By the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 British manufacturers were firmly established as the most efficient in the world and it was then that they started campaigning for free trade.

    2. The US too followed similar protectionist policies, espoused by Alexander Hamilton, which included protective tariffs, import bans, subsidies, export ban on key raw materials, financial aid…until the end of the Second World War (WWII). It was only after WWII, with its industrial supremacy unchallenged, that the US started championing the cause of free trade. Even when it shifted to freer trade, the US government promoted key industries by another means; namely public funding of Research and Development (R&D). Without government funding for R&D the US would not have been able to maintain its technological lead over the rest of the world on key industries like computers, semiconductors, life sciences, the internet and aerospace.

    3. In Japan the famous MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) orchestrated an industrial development programme that has now become a legend. After WWII, imports were tightly controlled through government control of foreign exchange. Exports were promoted inorder to maximize the supply of foreign currency needed to buy up better technology. This involved direct and indirect export subsidies as well as information and marketing help from JETRO the state’s trading agency.

    4. Even Korea has not been an exception to this pattern. The Korean miracle was the result of a clever and pragmatic mixture of market incentives and state direction. The Korean government did not have blind faith in the free market either. While it took markets seriously, the Korean strategy recognized that they often need to be corrected through policy intervention.

    5. Singapore has had free trade and relied heavily on foreign investment, but even so, it does not conform in other respects to the neo-liberal ideal. It used considerable subsidies to MNCs in industries it considered strategic. It also has one of the largest state owned enterprises which supplies housing and almost all land is owned by the government.

    To conclude, I feel that Mr. Gupta’s advocacy of free markets is based on a fundamentally defective understanding of the forces driving globalisation and a distortion of history to fit the theory. Free markets and trade was often imposed on rather than chosen by weaker countries. Virtually all successful economies, developed and developing, got where they are through selective strategic integration with the world economy rather than unconditional global integration.

    • Interesting analysis.
      To deviate from the main topic a bit, does this mean that reforms like the 3 Farming Acts should not be based blindly on free market principles, but there must be a pragmatic mixture of market incentives and state direction? (I quote from point 4 of your comment)?

    • Totally agreed. Each of these so called democracy started with a lot of authoritarian rules and then relaxed into what they are today “A Mature” democracy. They did not get to where they are with the same policies they have. In India people take too much advantage of Constitution and too loose laws and non-existent or wanting law-enforcement.

  13. Puerile arguments from a hack who when not kowtowing (i.e. lying prostrate at the feet) to his masters who were in power earlier, pretends — in fact craves to be seen as clever.

    The foundation for rapid growth in East Asia WAS laid by authoritarian governments — universal health and good education. Fledging industries set up. Of course when people became more prosperous the authoritarian aspects lessened. Bound to.

    No rocket science Mr so smart SG.

    Guptaji, since you are so smart and all-knowing, could you kindly explain to your readers what if Indians had been 3/4th of the population in Singapore and not the Chinese.

    You know what, Singapore would have been a forgotten colonial malarial dump and not the super successful, super wealthy city state which punches way way above its weight.

    Check out where Indian diaspora are in majority — Fiji, Guyana, etc. Only Mauritius comes anywhere close to a decent place.

    Reason: coz’ we Indians love arguing and talking and simply can’t excel as a team at macro, country level — what is needed to grow rich and successful. Individual brilliance of a few individuals delude us into believing we can escape our mediocrity. No chance!

    (Next time discuss Confucian ethic and rise of capitalism and a prosperous East and SE Asia. Just like protestant ethic and rise of capitalism in Western Europe. )

  14. There was no democracy in Germany after Hitler came to power in 1933. During his time he improved a lot the weak economy he inherited from the democratic Weimar Republic. Not only this, but during the World war II, the growth of the economy was WHOOPING 7%, considered great during those times and the war. He created jobs, and everybody had a job! NOT A SINGLE GERMAN MISSED THE FREEDOMS OF THE DEMOCRATIC WEIMAR REPUBLIC OF GERMANY! At the same time the economies in democratic allied countries were in a nose dive! In Britain everything was rationed. How did a small country like Germany under an ABSOLUTE dictatorship Defied the whole world, and fought it for six whole years, from 1939 to 1945? Its ally Italy was more of a liability than help, Its second ally, Japan, was also not much of a help.

    • Can’t believe I’m reading this- you’re celebrating the economic success of Nazi Germany. What about the millions who perished in the gas chambers?

      How many lives would you exchange for gdp? No wonder our country isn’t taken seriously around the world.

      • From Rohit Desai’s previous posts, I would not expected this of him. Unless he did not convey what he wanted to say . But he is a Gujarati, and many of them are fascist minded, so I would not put it beyond him to celebrate the ‘economic success’ of Nazi Germany.

      • An outstanding comment Mr Parutosh. It is heartening to hear a sane voice like yours from an increasingly saffron tinted India.

        Sadly, in all the 3 major countries of South Asia viz. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Hitler appears to be venerated. The RSS, the ideological font of the BJP is actually modelled on the fascist movements that prevailed in Europe viz. Germany’s Nazism and Italy’s fascism. Indeed, even former PM Vajpayee, a staunch RSS man had to be briefed before embarking on an overseas trip that the world outside India did not view Adolf Hitler in the manner his alma mater the RSS did !

        Hitler worship is overt in many middle-class circles. I was once stunned to see Hitler’s biography “Mein Kampf” prominently displayed in the bookshelf of a highly educated cousin of mine in India. A researcher by profession, he too believed in the “benevolent dictator” theory that Mr Shekhar Gupta touches upon here. Likewise, I was stunned to see Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” prominently displayed in a book store in Bombay Airport.

        Given this backdrop, Mr Rohit Desai’s views should not come as a surprise Mr Parutosh. Mr Desai’s merely regurgitates the views of the RSS and the BJP, the outfits that have decided to revise India’s history to suit their Hindutva ideology and their fascist bent of mind. The project is well underway – a textbook for Indian schoolchildren called “Great Leaders” from B.Jain Publishing group, (ref: nyti.ms/3musVdI) teaches kids that Hitler is a Leader ‘Who Will Inspire You’.

        Gujarat under then CM Modi took Hitler worship a notch or two higher. Fascism and Nazism are glorified in Gujarat schools. While a Class VIII student is taught ”negative aspects” of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, the Class X social studies textbook has chapters on ”Hitler, the Supremo” and ”Internal Achievements of Nazism” !!! (ref: bit.ly/34kivXM)

        This whitewashing of Nazism and fascism by the BJP & the RSS reminds me of a quote from the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831):

        “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”

        The pogroms engineered by Modi’s RSS thugs in 2002 seem to confirm Hegel.

    • Your post sounds like a glorification of Nazism. Sanghis cite what you have, how Hitler restored Germany’s economy and made it a military power.

      But you forgot to add that the Thousand Year Reich lasted 12 years, German cites were obliterated by firebombing by the RAF and UASF, and when the Red Army got to Berlin, Hitler and his team told the Germans not to surrender but committed suicide themselves. Germany lost 25% of its lands (Prussia), as they were transferred to Poland and the Soviet Union. Millions of Germans died in the eastern front and Stalingrad and other places.

      Hitler was a catastrophe for Germans and they understand that now. But many Hindus today want Hitlerism in India and they look up to the selected truths you quoted about Hitler.

  15. Shekharji, problem with elite Liberal is to cling on everyword spoken by government in a way which suits their Liberal idea and political leaning. AK amply clarified what he meant, as investing community always compares India vs China and not smaller economy you reffered in your article. Farm reform are biggest reform as undertaken after 1991 reforms. Few rich farmers and Dalal trying to hijack the entire issue out of proportion. You gave example of Korea in your article. Korea was transformed and lifted out of poverty by rise in chaebol. Few corporates transformed entire economy by focusing on exports and industrialisation. Can this possible in India? Taiwan is too small country to compare. They also transformed their industry (semi conductor). What is size of Taiwans economy? Liberals now a days working on single agenda. UPA 1 got benefited simply because of reforms done in vajpayee era. Modi s long lasting reform will be visible many years down the line

  16. SG has rightly said at the beginning of his piece that a spoken word, like all else, is a matter of interpretation and perception. A balanced analysis. But is there something more to democracy than perception?
    For instance, constitutional rights will have a different appeal for me, a professional soldier, from SG, a professional political journalist. Also, language, even one’s own mother tongue, is a fascinating medium of communication for anybody. The same expression will convey differently at different times depending on, among many factors, the context, intention and tone.
    In these times, I see that most people listen only to what one wants to hear. When even in our hallowed Parliament it has been eons since we have had a meaningful democratic discussion on matters of National importance. In the media we can discern a line of arguments just by knowing the author or commentator.
    Too much democracy or too little? Here are two examples.
    1. In the USA school do no mandate uniform unlike some school in India and the UK.
    2. Unlike in the USA Indian parliament does not allow for conscience vote (they wield the Whip), so an elected member’s “freedom” ends there.
    It is for each one of us to discern where we should draw the line, to decide how much of democracy is not too much. There is a view that India is not progressing as it is a laggard democracy. May be democracy also does not mean that a Nation can never speak in one voice. In the circumstance to earn and spend as one entity is a far cry, though not impossible.
    Tail piece: Are hartals and protests which violate the freedom of millions of citizens by disrupting / destroying public conveniences, par for the course in a democracy? There has to be a limit to everything. There is an old saying in Malayalam – translated, “Too much of Amrit is poison”.

    • If you are a military man, keep quiet.

      ‘Tail piece: Are hartals and protests which violate the freedom of millions of citizens by disrupting / destroying public conveniences, par for the course in a democracy? There has to be a limit to everything. There is an old saying in Malayalam – translated, “Too much of Amrit is poison”.’

      With that argument, Gandhi should not have created a civil disobedience movement, and Indians should not have participated in it, because the government of the day said it was against the law and it was sedition.

      If governments do not care for people’s grievances or actively harm them, even in a democracy, people will come out on the streets, if it is a matter of life and death. Muslims came out on the streets because they sensed CAA-NRC was a plan to put them in concentration camps selectively. The farmers have come out because they can sense that they will lose their farms to Adani. Kashmiris want separation because they see Hindu discrimination.

      The job of government is to create an inclusiveness so that people do not have to come out on the streets. People observe Jacinda Ardern looks after the people of NZ, those with her party and those against her party, and those with different ethncities. Modi does the opposite, so people will come out on the streets. In fact, had people come out on the streets at the time of demonetisation, India’s economy would not have been wrecked. But Hindus believed that it was done to weed out corruption, and they did not act.

      • Rasgolla: Col KL Viswanathan is a retired military man and he is fully free to articulate his views as he has hung up his uniform. I may not agree with much of what he writes but at the very least, the retired Colonel does not express hatred for other religions other viewpoints and he is civil and polite in the way he expresses himself. Not exactly an unhinged Modi clone like yourself Mr Rasgolla. Yes, just as Modi and his Hindutva thugs hate Muslims, you hate Hindus and have no regrets about it.

        You have no bloody business trying to dictate to Col Viswanathan on what he can or cannot write. So go keep quiet.

        • ‘Col KL Viswanathan is a retired military man…’

          He is just showing off, he might have been a Colonel in the RSS, and not the Indian army. He writes like a RSS pracharak.

          ‘the retired Colonel does not express hatred for other religions other viewpoints and he is civil and polite in the way he expresses himself.’

          He is the Vajpayee type of Hindu fascist, who indulges in doublespeak. He once wrote that Modi is running and running to catch up for 70 years of neglect (he is recanting the usual Hindutva claptrap about India getting left behind due to Nehru). In another post, he wrote approvingly and proudly to another crude Hindutva Hindu that ‘intellectuals are a vanishing breed in India’. He wrote to someone who was griping against secular democracy, that lack of Uniform Civil Code proves secularism is what has held back India. What has held back India is the wretched Hindu caste system – he does not want to address that, you do not either, nor SG, and for that matter, the great Mr. Nehru also did not. But I address it. You need to give me credit for that.

          This so called retired Col. is a Hindu fascist, or a fellow traveller. He is just a poser with his title and apparently smooth language. You have to read between the lines and then you will see what he is. I am an expert in reading such Hindus. Leave that to me., I know how to deal with bluffers

          As for you, why are you eager to defend his right to free speech and demand curbing me alone ? That speaks volumes about you as well : you are a fellow traveller as well.

          ‘Not exactly an unhinged Modi clone like yourself Mr Rasgolla. Yes, just as Modi and his Hindutva thugs hate Muslims, you hate Hindus and have no regrets about it.’

          How dare you equate me with Modi ? Have 1 organised a riot or murdered anyone or incited anyone to do so ?

          How did you conclude I hate Hindus ? I have made two statements (1) what cripples India is the caste system and Hindus need to erase it if India is to progress and (2) if India is a Hindu country as claimed by the BJP and its supporters, then India’s failures have to be put on Hindus, and not Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. These do not constitute hatred to Hindus or anyone else.

          On these two points, I am blunt and unwavering. Hindus need to look at matters objectively and see the damage they have done to India. They need to be serious and understand they are steering the country to break up. The above two points are your job to state. I am doing it for you but you cannot take it. The two points above will not be digestible for many Hindus but they are correct and and are not refutable.

  17. So then why is India desperately poor. How come in India, democracy didn’t lead to education, healthcare, law & order, justice etc. Is it because the ordinary Indian isn’t really interested in all this or is it because India isn’t really a true democracy? Is it because India is actually a feudal fiefdom of a few entitled individuals operating under the garb of a democracy. After all even the Constitution of India was imposed and not really endorsed by a vote of the people. Even the modifications made by the illegitimate government of the Congress during the emergency hasn’t been removed by a vote of the people. The truth is that India is a democracy only in name.

    • It is because of India’s caste system. It mitigates against universal education. The sufferers have been beaten into submission by high castes over centuries, and so the high castes will continue with that only. Nehru did not take steps to eradicate the caste system completely. The British and Muslim rulers also did not do that, as they did not want to interfere with the Hindu way of life. We need someone like Stalin to eradicate caste and educate India in 10 years.

  18. But democracy needs honest politician who believes in welfare of nation as top most priority. In India politics spoils democracy!

  19. on second reading, i have to add one more point.
    all the asian conuntries that you have mentioned which are democracies and china which is not – all have economic prosperity.
    so perhaps what is required is not deomocracy perhaps.
    the common thread may be law and law enforcement.
    even if the laws are not the best, its enfocement has to be proper and excellent.
    law enforcement has two agencies = govt. executive and judiciary.
    unfortunately we know how coorupt the govt. offices are. every dept. from traffic,excise,sales,customs,propert tax,police right upto passport – all of them lot of corrupt employees. so every citizen is harassed so way or the other.
    take the example of passport- though beautifully streamlined of late, yet when it comes to police verification we have to pay for chai-pani. i have seen police constables returning the passports with adverse comments for silliest of the reasons.
    next take judiciary. ours is the only country where it takes such a long time to deliver justice.
    even a small case like property dispute between warring brothers take more than 20 years.
    a petty corruption case like bangaru laxman’s case took more than 15 years. i am not sure if he was alive at that time.
    so what do we say about 2G, coal allocation scam, common wealth games scam – we will never know what happened during our life time.
    similarly we will nevr know if arnab goswami is guilty of abetment to suicide !!!
    not to talk of land acquisition for bullet trains – minimum 30 years!!
    this is my take

  20. This is not really true, starting from the europeans:
    When Europeans grew there was no democracy in the colonies (sometimes not even in home countries)
    South Korea had quasi military setup
    Taiwan was a one party rule
    in USA half the population was not allowed to vote
    Australia same

    This is not to say Democracy is a bad thing. Problem is sometimes people at the receiving end, (in this case of farm subsidies, the urban poor) don’t have organisational capability or money

  21. As always, an excellent piece by S.G.. However, I would go a step further and argue that the value of democracy doesn’t need justification anymore than the value of freedom does.

  22. when amitabh kant said “we are too much of a democracy”, he did not mean we should have a limited democracy. that is purposely twisting the statement.
    it means just that.
    for example let us take these farm laws. most of the experts including shekar gupta supported the bill. but onus is only on modi alone to convince the farmers. we do not know how much vested interest there is. take for example shekar gupta – he says the law is good. but blames modi for handlng it badly.
    i have never seen one editirial saying the farmers are harming the country. if a govt. brings even a slightly bad law, the whole country would be shouting at the top of the roof.
    too much democracy means that the individual freedom and RIGHT is paraamount. to hell with our duties and NATIONAL GOOD.
    national good is not my problem or my duty. i am only bothered about my right to criticize whatever and anybody i want no matter how wrong i may be.

  23. India’s problem is not too much democracy. It is dysfunctional democracy combined with an incompetent economic policy making establishment and a decrepit governance system. The result is a vast lumpen mass of unemployable, uneducated, unskilled people who are misled for votes by unscrupulous politicians and exploited by their industrialist cronies. This talk of too much democracy is a lame excuse to cover up incompetence.

  24. Shekharji it’s not democracy it’s the misuse of democracy.

    1) Democracy is a reason given why we couldn’t control POPULATION. Totally untrue.

    2) Democracy is the reason given why a person called STAN SWANY complains about not being provided sipper and straw and a ruckus and abuse of jail authorities is initiated and suddenly the news disappears. Shouldn’t someone find out WETHER it was FAKE NEWS NARRATIVE.

    3) ANTI CAA PROTESTS and now infiltration of farmers protest by pro china left-wing radicals who are further infiltrated by Islamic radicals is now a fact . Can we ever forget how ultra left wing radicals SUPPORTED chinese invasion of 1962 and are again creating disharmony when china is building forces on our borders.

    4) Protest are an important part of democracy but people who have lost their undeserved perks by just being anti HINDU activist and propagandist under congrass regime are also shouting victimisation has really nothing to do with democracy.

  25. Economic independence is good; if there is govt. control it must go away by economic reform. All good.But why can’t do it in a democratic way? The way BJP brought these farm laws that its own NDA parter had to leave. Why could it not try to assuge the farmers who were protesting for the last six months and engaged with them only when they came to the dorrstep of Delhi? In many ways this BJP govt behaves like a king, hardly follows democratic processes, it has in fact did everything to undermine various democratic institutions. Iy you’re in awe with China, and not by Japan, South Korea, and many South East Asian countries, then think about other communist countries too. Great example are North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, many eastern europian countries like Albania, etc. So economic reform can happen with democratic ways. Not the way, this Modi govt brought the farm laws. Look at its parent organization RSS. The RSS head is never elected, he is always selected and in undemocratic way. There are ample examples how this Modi govt. follows the dictats of its businessmen masters: (1) It declared a future institution to be owned by Ambani to be one of the best institution (2) It allowed another Ambani company to get the contract while it did a G2G deal to buy rafale, (3) It declared demonetization to force small businessmen go digital benefitting the large businessmen. But when it saw the wrath of small businessmen, it was forced to convert the old cash into new cash which resulted in making all black money into white. It also helped the JIO communications of the Ambanis.
    Had the BJP govt been so reform-ridden, it’d have joined RCEP. It would also have acted against banks for their NPAs, rather than using public money. If it’s acted in some cases, it has done only if there are political benefits i.e. if it’s related to the opposition party members. It would also have not tried to control RBI as it is doing now. This BJP govt is simply taking steps to help only a few businessmen, not all. Others are just enamoured by “we’re hindu”. What’s helping Modi is a spineless Congress, divided opposition. However one good thing Modi is doing is that it’s “doing something”, it’s always in “action mode”, the military has never got so much attention. But things are mismanaged to a large extent. The only guys who’ll benefit are in such environment are the greedy nd selfish businessmen.

  26. It is possible to discern in that anguished comment a plea, an alibi for economic performance that is proving completely elusive. Read today’s fine edit in IE to get a sense of the political paramountcy. This is like the perfectly equipped, provisioned kitchen in a cruise ship that should be effortlessly delivering thousands of meals all through the day, catering to all tastes and preferences. Ask Arun Shourie, after listening to the sound of clanging vessels, what is actually being served up.

  27. Point well made Mr Gupta. What is of interest for us is – what is ailing Indian democracy? Why are we not getting more prosperous quicker? We thought it was corruption but clearly this govt claims to be “corruption free” yet our economic growth is nothing to be crowing about. Modi fans might say legacy issues but honestly blaming someone else is the oldest game in the world and starts to get boring and loses sheen after a while. Modi (or any govt) if it is serious about growth needs to invest a lot more in education, healthcare and getting the hell out of micromanaging people’s lives and their businesses. In all these parameters Modi Sarkar has had an extremely poor record from 2001 onwards. Clearly Modi’s economic record is “naam bade aur darshan chhote.” Change is necessary if we don’t wish to waste another decade.

    • An outstanding comment Mr/Ms NM.

      I particularly liked your assertion:

      “.. getting the hell out of micromanaging people’s lives and their businesses ..”

      And I guess that applies to what people eat too these days. After all Modi and his fanboys want to dictate that as well …

  28. There’s no doubt india needs more democracy. At local levels too. However, Shekhar ji, the question pertaining to economic liberty/freedom and its relationship is more complicated. Look at Indira Gandhi’s gareebi hatao and her frenzy of nationalisation. She not only took over a lot of businesses in the name of nationalisation (“kabza by the govt”), she managed to get humongous popular support. In this case the economic freedom of those businesses was violated and shredded into pieces. Did democracy provide a check to that? It didn’t. It instead bolstered her. Look at how those ill informed kisan unions are attacking corporates as if they are inherently evil? “Corporate” has become a bad word and so has “profit”. Are you really telling me that the democratic popular opinion is against those notions? Comparing west or countries like south korea with india is wrong. In none of those countries is the idea of free markets, private enterprises contested. However in India, our political class particularly opposition is in constant war to portray private companies as evil. And they find wide ranging support. So is it really baseless to argue that economic freedom and political freedom don’t go hand in hand in india?

    • This is exactly right. Democracy does not automatically mean economic freedoms. So many “democratic” South American nations have fallen to economic populism while “autocratic” Chile managed to pull itself out of economic despair. Democracy is susceptible to the call of the populist in the absence of balance of powers, strong institutions and a framework of unconditional economic and civil liberties. Our founders and subsequent leaders were too weak to follow through with all of these and this has led to the rise of populists like Indira and Modi.

    • Mr/Ms Harsha: In your infinite wisdom, you pontificate:

      “.. Look at how those ill informed kisan unions are attacking corporates as if they are inherently evil .. ”

      Well, since you are so bloody well-informed about farming, and the 260 million odd Indians who work in the agricultural sector must necessarily be idiots and no little about the economics of farming, may I ask you how many acres of farmland you cultivate ?

      Additionally, you go on to expose your utter lack of knowledge about farming in Europe and the USA, cf. your nugget of “wisdom”

      “.. Comparing west or countries like south korea with india is wrong. In none of those countries is the idea of free markets, private enterprises contested ..”

      Fact is, in both Western Europe (EU + EEA), farming is highly subsidised and market forces are kept at bay. The Doha Trade Negotiation rounds have always failed on the contentious issue of farming. Essentially, if free markets had prevailed in the EU & the USA + Canada, Indian farmers would have had access to these markets – which they don’t.

      You go on to rant:

      “.. in India, our political class particularly opposition is in constant war to portray private companies as evil ..”

      Well, the nature of Indian politics is such that you oppose for the sake of opposing, the benefits to the people be damned as long as benefits accrue to your own party. Thus, whilst in opposition, the BJP was for statehood for Delhi and in opposition to Aadhar & GST. Now that the BJP is in power, it opposes statehood for Delhi, supports Aadhar & GST whilst the Congress stance is the rank opposite. Hence, the positions taken by political parties matter little in the debate about welfare to the nation. Without exception, political parties exist for promotion of the party and the individuals at the helm of the party. And in that calculus, Modi is no different from Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, the DMK’s Stalin etc. etc. Something Modi blind, blinkered bhakths like you fail to grasp.

  29. They can never realise that for the first time in 5000 years of history, in the democratic atmosphere of Congress rule, the Hindu population crossed one billion and tripled itself in 70 years.

    • For the first time in 5000 years, under Communist dictatorship, China’s population crossed 1 billion. What is your point ?

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