Rajesh’s blog has an item on
Sen on India and China. Of late Indians have been forced to accept
unfavorable comparisons between India and China. And with good reason.
But Indians find some grounds — often flimsy — to tilt the
comparison in India’s favor. Sen writes:
While India has much to learn from China about economic policy and also
about health care, India’s experience with public communication and
democracy could still be instructive for China…With stunning success,
China has become a leader of the world economy, and from this India—like
many other countries—has been learning a great deal, particularly in
recent years. But the achievements of democratic participation in India,
including Kerala, suggest that China, for its part, may also have
something to learn from India.
Let me first address the point about public communications. India
does have freedom of press. You can print and publish all sorts of
things, including criticism of the government and its policies.
What good that freedom does in a nation of illiterates is open
to debate. If only 10 percent of the population has access to
books, magazines and newspapers, freedom of the press is a good
idea in theory but has little practical implications. What would
have had practical implications is the freedom of radio and (later on)
the freedom of TV. Even illiterates can comprehend the spoken word
and see video content. In the Indian context, free public
communications implies freedom not just of the press but also
of radio and TV. But with cynical aforethought, the Indian
government did not allow the population that freedom.
I say cynical aforethought because I believe that the move was
calculated to keep the population uninformed and therefore under
control. Given that the population was severely handicapped
informationally, the much celebrated “democracy” amounted to a
sham because if one does not know what the government was up to,
a vote does not amount to much. Bihar has had democracy for
over 57 years. The result of that “democracy” is a government
by crooks and incompetents. The outcome is not surprising given
that literacy in Bihar is extremely low.
I put forth the hypothesis that India will continue to neglect
making the population 100 percent literate because it will empower
the population sufficiently and bring an end to the sham democracy.
Those who are in power today fear 100 percent literacy because they
fear losing their immunity.
What the Chinese have demonstrated is the simple fact that economic
policies matter. Before 1978, China operated on a different set and was
as poor — if not poorer — as India. Around ’78, they came to their
senses and changed many of their policies. Twenty-five years later, they
are a giant that cannot be messed around with. India’s economic policies
– mostly attributable to Nehru and his progenies — have doomed India
to what it is today. A balance of payment crisis forced India to change
some of the policies but in general it was too little (and I pray that
it is not too late.) Indian policy makers appear to be particularly
impervious to reason. The two most important challenges that India faces
are not being addressed. They are: the population and broadbased primary
and secondary education.