of Chinese totalitarianism seem to ignore the colossal failures
and gruesome tragedies in the early phases of communist
dictatorship. Great Leap Forward in the 50's ultimately
led to starvation deaths of an estimated 20 million people
between 1959 and 1961! And a generation or more suffered
the grievous consequences of the disastrous Cultural Revolution.
Those two movements (!) were orchestrated by an authoritarian
regime directly controlled by the great helmsman Chairman
dictatorship brought tragedy in its wake in China. Then
what explains the dramatic growth after 1978? There are
two fundamental factors which transformed China. Whatever
be Mao's failures, the positive aspects of socialism created
a superb launching pad for Deng to embrace market economy.
As in other communist regimes, school-education and healthcare
were given enormous importance. The result was a healthy,
skilled population which is both employable and productive.
It is not always a question of resources. India spends 5.2%
of GDP on health, but only 17% of it is on public health,
and most of it is skewed. China spends only 5.1% of GDP
on health, but 42% of it is on public health, and it is
wisely deployed. But China did not stop with human development.
Even by 1978, conscious efforts were made to transfer technology
to rural areas and improve infrastructure. True, it was
not frontier technology; but the basic, simple, low-cost
technologies that bring about marked improvements in people's
lives were widely applied.
came Deng. Not only did he embrace market economy with gusto
and embarked on the Four Modernizations, but he also took
full advantage of the decentralized and un-integrated economy.
A problem became an opportunity. Local initiatives flourished
in a variety of ways. The boom of millions of town-village
enterprises (TVEs) with huge employment creation and vast
exports transformed Chinese economy, their self-image and
global competitiveness. The rest is history.
objective analysis shows that dictatorship was China's problem,
and communist authoritarianism might yet undo many recent
gains. Sound policies, decentralization and market economy
transformed China; not crude dictatorship and state coercion.
many ways, Chinese recent success is unique. The fact is,
most dictatorships failed to promote prosperity and maintain
harmony. In every dictatorship which gave some stability
and economic growth, there was abnormal price paid in terms
of life and liberty. And for every dictatorship which showed
some growth, there are many which precipitated decline!
why did our democracy not yield results? In the name of
socialism, we undermined true entrepreneurship. The state's
failure in education, healthcare, rural technologies and
infrastructure has been too well documented to need elaboration.
And we became control freaks. I vividly remember that only
20 years ago we had cement control and dual pricing, and
people had to beg for cement permits to build homes! We
had bureaucrats controlling steel sales and seeking bribes
and exercising patronage. In short, the state failed in
its core areas of legitimate functioning, and did everything
possible to undermine our self-esteem and enterprise.
democracy itself has been reduced to a game of musical chairs.
We have sunk into medievalism with local mandarins becoming
modern zamindars perpetuating oligarchic control and undermining
rule of law. Periodic elections with change of players and
political freedoms alone do not substantiate our claims
of being a modern democracy. Rule of law, citizen-empowerment,
economic liberty, human development and self-correcting
institutions are the essential preconditions for a successful
democracy fostering fast growth.
have had many opportunities over the past 30 years to set
things right. Instead of changing course, we continued merrily
with our failed policies. Our plan documents were largely
a rehash of each other, and the priorities and shibboleths
in one plan were indistinguishable from another. Instead
of building institutions which can replicate best practices,
and creating mechanisms which can deliver results, we remained
content with pious homilies and hypocritical slogans. That
criminal failure had nothing to do with democracy, and everything
to do with perversion of democracy.
is in democracies that best economic growth was seen in
post-war decades. That is why people of East Germany voted
with their feet and East Europeans overthrew dictatorships.
We have done everything possible to deny our people basic
knowledge and skills and kept them in the dark. Illiterate
and poor people are necessarily short-term maximizers. We
pandered to the sectarian and base instincts of our people
and provoked primordial loyalties. That is not because of
democracy. That is because of poor leadership. And now to
turn around and blame democracy as a system and the people
is the height of folly.
democracy under-performed because of the inherent conflict
between colonial instruments and noble constitutional goals.
After all, our state structure and electoral system are
more or less a continuation of the colonial practices with
the added feature of universal adult franchise.
Competition is about promoting and rewarding excellence;
not bringing down others by hook or crook. Liberty is certainly
no license for predatory behaviour or legal plunder. Nor
can democracy be equated with indiscipline. And rule of
law certainly does not mean delays and inefficiencies. The
rapid execution of the National Highways Project is an example
of what we can accomplish with will and determination. For
far too long we blamed democracy for our follies and failures.
We never really internalized the institutions and practices
which constitute a true democracy. One illustration will
suffice. Suresh Prabhu was removed as Power Minister for
the sole stated reason that he was too honest for the job!
Flaws in our democracy, not democracy per se, are the cause
of our failures. We need more liberty - not less; but coupled
with rule of law. And we can accomplish that and engineer
growth. What we need is self-confidence, and not self-flagellation;
clear-headed and sane analysis and policy initiatives, and
not knee-jerk and ad hoc responses.