Chinese Dream vs New India
In our quest to ape our neighbour, let's not lose sight of the high cost it entails - freedoms snatched, voices stifled and the eventual end of a pluralism that has been our biggest strength
Every visit of a Chinese dignitary to India, as was true of President Xi Jinping last week, dredges up emotions of awe and inadequacy, rage and despair in our collective soul. This is because China represents a challenge to who we are. China is a compelling argument to reject our self and become like, well, the Chinese.
We harbour a wish to sock China, for thumping us in the 1962 war; for squatting over 42,685 sq km of Kashmir and coveting Arunachal Pradesh. China infuriates us with its support for Pakistan and its terror machine, for ensuring we don't nest in international bodies like the Nuclear Suppliers Group, for injecting in us a sense of inferiority as we know we can't make China bleed.
Opinion polls reflect our emotions. Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy found in 2013 that 83% of Indians considered China a security threat. Three years later, seven in 10 Indians characterised China's economic impact a problem, with 45% of them rating it as very serious, in a Pew Research Centre poll.
Younger to us by two years, China was poorer than us in 1990. It is 4.61 times richer than us today. Between 1961 and 2018, China registered a 10% growth in 22 out of those 57 years. We haven't achieved that even once. China's is a $12.01 trillion economy; India's a $2.61 trillion one. Wealth has turned China healthier. The mortality rate for Chinese children below 5 years for every 1,000 live births in 2017 was 9; it was 39 in India. The mortality rate for Indian males and females between 15 and 60 years per 1,000 population was 214 and 138; for China, it was 93 and 67.
These statistical details are validated by Indians who return from China completely mesmerised. Their cities match the West's, their infrastructure is inferior to none, their civic life orderly, and their nightlife vibrant and safe. Indian importers marvel at China's inexhaustible capacity to produce. Their orders for goods worth crores are shipped in a week, unlike in India, where it takes months to procure the supply. Their verdict: India is nowhere near China.
We want to imitate China, forgetting the price its people paid for its rise. Countless have died in the many Chinese experiments with nation-building; it ruthlessly curbs dissidence and allows freedom of expression as long as criticism is to its liking. China's growth has turned the demographic domination of the Han, who constitute 91% of the population, into a cultural hegemony. Take the Tibetans, who are being Han-ised, swamped and suppressed; or the thousands of Uyghurs packed off to detention centres to wear the nationalist straitjacket.
The nation-state project has always been a bloody one worldwide. This is true of India as well, but the price we have paid, even though unconscionable, isn't comparable to what the Chinese have. Democracy demands negotiations and compromises with a range of social groups. It was through a lengthy, cacophonic, mutinous process that the idea of India was imbricated with linguistic, religious and caste identities and was still more than their total sum. Democracy slowed us. Unlike China, it has been mostly impossible for the Indian state to relocate entire villages overnight to build, say, a dam.
But India's pride in the democracy-development model seems to be ebbing as China, under Xi, employs its financial clout to muscle around. In 2012, Xi popularised the idea of "Chinese Dream", which seeks to build upon the memory of humiliation suffered under colonial rule to bring about the "great revival of the Chinese nation", to make it the power it once was in the 18th century. XI's Chinese Dream fans nationalistic fervour and unites a society increasingly becoming unequal and corrupt. The One Belt One Road project symbolises Xi's dream.
As China gallops to realise Xi's dream, leaving its footprints across continents, many Indians identify democracy as the factor impeding India's domination. It's perhaps why they find psychologically comforting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dream of New India, which too seeks to harness nationalism for breaking out of old habits and shattering the Nehruvian consensus to become a Great Power. Modi's New India, like Xi's Chinese Dream, frowns upon dissent and diversity. It doesn't dither to steamroll resistance, of which Kashmir is an example. The idea of New India neatly fits into the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's ideological frame of One Nation-One Language-One Culture.
Consciously or otherwise, we are imitating the Chinese. From RSS's perspective, it is a tantalising prospect for the Sangh to stamp out the pluralism of India to Hinduise it. Will the peripheries, socially and geographically, accept assimilation without resistance? No, for we will be turning against the essence of our own self. It is always traumatic to become the rival who you wish to trump.
The writer is a senior journalist
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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