The US, looking for a counter balance to China’s growing influence in the Pacific and Asia has lavished both praise and nuclear gifts on India. In 2008 the US closed a deal with India whereby India was given access to nuclear technology despite India’s refusal to sign the non-proliferation treaty. In 2010 Obama stated he would support India’s membership on the Security Council. All this while the US and the West trumpet India as the World’s Largest Democracy but, is India worthy of all these accolades?
I have long criticised the West’s praise of India touting it as the World’s Largest Democracy, while ignoring it as one of the most inequitable, culturally fragmented and poorest countries in the world. At the same time, the US is unsparing in its criticism of China’s human rights record, and what they call both a dictatorship and autocratic government. Democracy, alas, is not a panacea for all ills, nor is it necessarily compatible with the diverse cultures of our world.
So, perhaps a brief comparison of India and China is in order.
Below the poverty line:
India: 66 years
China: 74 years
In addition, for me, there is the question of whether India even qualifies as a nation-state, one definition of which is:
A form of political organization under which a relatively homogeneous people inhabits a sovereign state with a common language, culture, ethnicity, and history.
There are 20 major languages in use in India, Hindi being the most prevalent at 48% and 12 ethnic groups of which, again, Hindu is the largest. There are more poor in India than in Africa, 410 million and 160 million “untouchables”, people relegated from birth to the most dismal levels of society because of a primitive religious caste system. Some progress has been made with respect to the “untouchables”, or Dalits, as they are known, but there is still intense discrimination against them and Indian Muslims.
China, on the other hand, is a homogenous society, comprised ethnically of Han Chinese, 95%; although Cantonese is spoken in the southern regions, there is, since 1985, an officially recognized national language, Mandarin.
In addition, in India there are 364 political parties vying for 543 parliamentary seats, the largest party with only 28.55% of the popular vote; a ruling coalition comprised of 13 parties with 206 seats, less than an absolute majority, thus having to depend on cobbled together coalitions to survive. Chaos and gridlock are the keywords to describe governance in India.
As the Indian President of the Center for Policy Research, a New Delhi–based think tank wrote, income inequality has risen. The vaunted hi tech and outsourcing business has benefited a miniscule percentage of the general population. India would have done better to copy the Chinese manufacturing and export orientated model, which has brought to many of the rural poor higher incomes and a better life.
Politically India resembles both feudal monarchy and chaotic tribalism. The largest party, the Congress Party is a virtual hereditary monarchy, the mantle of power being passed from one Ghandi/Nehru family member to another. In this dysfunctional system, corruption is endemic. Basharat Peer says that what passes for a democracy is fast degenerating into a Psephocracy – a system totally dominated by electoral victories and defeats. The moment you enter office, you begin to think of the next election. One could argue well that the same applies to the United States.
Geopolitically, India, as I wrote at the beginning is being promoted by the US as a regional counter balance to China but, considering India’s inherent unstable political and social system, I question the wisdom of this policy.
India and Pakistan, both nuclear armed, are equally unstable, politically, ethnically and socially fragmented. Pakistan, potentially, is a far greater danger to the region but, India, with 14% of its population Muslim, discriminated against and disaffected makes for a volatile situation. In a future conflict between India and Pakistan that large Muslim population could very well become a dangerous internal threat to India. The greatest threat, however, is the deployment of nuclear weapons in the two countries. I believe the prospect of one or the other of launching a nuclear attack is far greater than Iran or North Korea.