Development and Dissent: The China vs India Story

BY MAITREYA BHAKAL
Apr 21, 2010

While the Chinese government prefers development over human rights, the Indian government, while guaranteeing these rights, neglects development.

 

Two Uyghur women pass Chinese paramilitary policemen standing guard outside the Grand Bazaar in the Uyghur district of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region in July.

Two Uyghur women pass Chinese paramilitary policemen standing guard outside the Grand Bazaar in the Uyghur district of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang region in July.

 

Both India and China face the problems of separatism. Indian Naxalite movements and the recent riots and uprisings in Xinjiang and Tibet further highlight the need for respective governments to tackle the issue seriously.

Whoever might have been guilty of masterminding the riots and uprisings in China, the fact remains that none of the accused parties can claim that there is a lack of economic development in the minority regions. This is in stark contrast to India, where the government itself has admitted that the lack of development is the main cause of the Naxal menace. The Indian government neglected those resource-rich regions for years, and is now paying the price. Now, when the government sanctions any big project in the region, then the local tribal population accuses it of "playing into the hands of multinationals".

...it is clear that the Chinese government doesn't give as much importance to religion as it does to development. This is in stark contrast to India, where theirs is complete religious freedom and freedom of speech but where the government has continuously neglected the development of tribal areas – hence the unrest against it.

By contrast, the Chinese government has put a greater emphasis on economic development and has restricted religious freedom. Hence, whatever be the cause of the riots (religious restrictions or outside interference), it is clear that the Chinese government doesn't give as much importance to religion as it does to development. This is in stark contrast to India, where theirs is complete religious freedom and freedom of speech, but where the government has continuously neglected the development of tribal areas – hence the unrest against it.

And herein lies one of the many differences in these two governments' approaches. China thinks (in the words of the western media) it can “buy” stability with development. A recent conference on Tibet in Beijing concluded with the decision that economic development in Tibet will ensure stability. While the Chinese government often speaks of “social stability” and “harmonious society” (President Hu's catchphrase) as two of its main goals, it seems that the only goal of the Indian government is to win elections. In the words of Pallavi Aiyar,

"In India legitimacy is derived from process while in China, it’s increasingly drawn from performance. In India, the process of getting elected and the fact that citizens participate actively in the political process provides governments with their legitimacy. Ironically, the result is that once in power performance is not always as important for a government as the fact of having been elected. In other words the means (of getting elected) become more important than the end (of good governance as defined by delivery of public goods etc)"

In other words, while the Chinese government thinks that its duty is to deliver growth, the Indian government thinks that its duty is simply to win elections.

China believes that economic development in minority regions will bring social stability (and has refused to negotiate with the World Uyghur Congress), while the Indian government believes that the right to free speech will ensure social stability; and has offered to talk with the Naxals if they abjure violence.

Most Chinese have so far been largely happy with this tradeoff between better standards of living and human rights. While the Indian public and media are proud of their democratic values (The Indian PM, comparing India with China, said, "Unlike China, India has growth with values"), they lament their government's inability to deliver growth and improve living standards. For example, India has more people owning a mobile phone than access to a proper toilet.

Hence, while the Chinese government prefers development over human rights (like freedom of religion and speech), the Indian government, while guaranteeing these rights, neglects development – it would not be an over exaggeration to say that it in fact uses these rights as an excuse to neglect its performance. The standard excuse given is (with even the Home minister P. Chidambaram saying this in an interview) that "if you don't like the government, just throw them out and elect a new one", conveniently ignoring the fact that successive governments have neglected developing tribal areas, regardless of political affiliation. The Naxal movement's origins can be traced back to 1967. Hence, it can be argued that the Indian government uses political rights as an excuse to neglect development; the Chinese government uses development as an excuse to neglect political rights.

However, if the respective governments combined these two extreme approaches, then they will be in a better position to address their respective problems.

In simple terms, the Chinese government believes that it deserves to be in power because it has developed the country; the Indian Government believes it deserves to be in power simply because the people have voted for it.

 

Maitreya Bhakal also blogs at India’s China blog

 

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