A competitive comparison between India and China is an all time favorite subject in international political circles. After a complete revision of methodology of calculation in 2014, India’s economic growth rate for the first time surpassed that of China, and there was buzz all over that ‘India had overtaken China’. Being a developing nation with a Western-style ‘model of democracy’, India’s ‘good news’ is always exaggerated and similarly China’s ‘bad news’ is also always blown out of proportion by the West. It is not at all right to view India and China on the basis of public opinion prevailing in the current international environment.
Here is a basic scale of comparison for a well ordered society. The end goal of any State or government usually is pursuit of common good. The definition of “good” today is greatly influenced by a world governed by ideologies. But for ordinary people, the most important thing is to live in order, in a well governed and well ordered society. A well ordered society is after all the result of rapport between the State and society, in which the State provides basic public services and society, with its dynamic and innovative forces, strives for and finally achieves a certain degree of social justice.
As for governance in the two countries, let us see who has fared better at fighting poverty. According to UN, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line at present in China is 11%, whereas in India it is 33%, which means over 400 million people still live below the poverty line. Why is it so? According to the scholars engaged in research on India, India is like a three-section cudgel. With central, state and local level political powers never in harmony, India is a typical example of a “fractured society”. In fact, just when Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the country’s general elections and came to power, in the state elections held in Delhi, it was the populist Aam Admi party (AAP) which secured the absolute majority. With such fragmentation of power, how can India compete in governance with China which has the advantage of centralized democracy?
But the expert observers, having a soft spot for the Indian “good system”, often say India has a more dynamic private sector than the Chinese and because of its developed civil society also has a more developed social democracy, meaning thereby China is inferior to India. If it were so, what are we to make of American expert Lardy’s research conclusions that Chinese private sector’s rate of contribution to employment and economic growth and reliance on bank loans is 70% more than any other country? Why are Indian IT companies unable to compete with the world class companies like Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei? These people forget a common knowledge that above industry there is the State and below it society — how dynamic and competitive can any industry be in the face of a State devoid of power and a fragmented social structure?
India is a living historical museum where thousand years old property deeds, caste system and untouchability are still in practice. According to statistics, there are at least more than 2000 caste and clan based political parties. Amid such a social structure, party politics and civil society have really flourished and one can witness protest marches every week in the cities and towns. Electoral politics is very developed and voter turnout is unusually high, the reason being the share of spoils the political parties get. Once a party gets control of a town or village, it capitalizes fully on the advantage of being in power for the next few years.
Since the nature of State-society relations is completely different in India and China, there is bound to be a big difference in the level of social justice. During a lecture at the World Bank, British economist of Indian origin Amartya Sen repeatedly said that China is a role model for India. Fukuyama told a story about how the United Nations invested heavily in a universal education program in a region of India but, even after 5 years, the situation remains the same — children are still unable to go to school. This kind of social injustice is a product of State governance capacity and governance ideology.
The difference between India and China in terms of a well ordered society is very clear. Having said that, it does not follow that the two countries have nothing to learn from each other. In State governance Chinese government has to learn to reduce, to cut down its role in the allocation of resources, to allow the market to play a more decisive role. On the other hand, India has to learn to do more, it has to increase its governance capacity and also realize its dream of better social justice. Only the social structure of the two countries will determine whether it is better to cut down (on State role in governance) or step it up unmindful of difficulties. For sure, the differences between the two countries cannot be eliminated in a short span of time.
▲(The author is a professor of political science at the Renmin University of China, Executive Director, National Governance Research Institute (Translator’s Note: Director of the Institute of Comparative Political Systems )