India and China with their combined land mass and sizeable populations constitute a fair deal of the Asian continent. Despite this and their many similarities both countries maybe said to have an uneasy relationship. In large part this is due to the colonial impact vis-à-vis the vexed border issue.The border issue might be the most significant but not the only issue characteristic of Sino-Indian bilateral relations. Apart from that the political systems of both countries are fundamentally divergent to one another. China is an autocracy whereas India is a democracy. It is fashionable nowadays to talk of a rapprochement between both countries but this ignores the fundamental differences between both in terms of development. This substantial difference in economic development between both countries may be said to be an additional irritant today between these two Asian giants. Similarly while Tibet may be said to have bedevilled Sino-Indian relations in the past and might continue to be a factor today, there is now the added element of Sino-Japan rivalry to be factored into this relationship. Indeed India might be said to be a key ‘swing state’ in Sino-Japan ties as well as Sino-U.S. equations.
The Chinese pattern of governance has been pretty systematic since the commencement of economic reforms under Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. China has quietly converted its command control economy into a free market entity in historically a remarkably short span of time. Together with this it has lifted record numbers of people out of abject poverty.There are few parallels in the history of mankind for such a feat. Indeed if India with its low social development were to succeed in becoming a manufacturing hub as the Modi regime aspires,this would be a comparable achievement.
Noted columnist Prem Shankar Jha has attributed the phenomenal Chinese lead in economic development to the thirteen years head start it has over India. In my opinion this is a simplistic approach. The roots of Indian backwardness are to be found in its often chaotic democratic politics and the pervasive impact of the caste system which has stymied all real social development. All this is not to deny the tremendous entrepreneurial and innovative talent within India but it is debatable whether such enterprise has been able to dent the appalling poverty and low social indices which are characteristic of the country.
It seems to me that the Indian pattern of governance has fallen economically between two stools, being traditionally neither fully capitalist nor even giving its citizens the standard of living of the erstwhile socialist bloc. The question to be asked therefore is where India goes from here. Is time simply the factor holding India back or will it remain an economy dependent on gigantic welfare schemes to better the lot of its people? Again perhaps only time can really answer that question…