Rajesh’s blog has an item on Amartya 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 broad-based primary and secondary education.