In 2005, when I was in US, the bookshop ‘Borders’ helped me enjoying my 6-months long stay. It was at that time that I could really understand how China has touched every American through its Wall-Marts. But it was some books that opened my eyes about the sprinting growth of China. I read many of them, but ‘China Inc’ was really impressive with details how the Chinese factories expanded its wings almost sweeping global manufacturing establishments of the developed countries, be it US or historically strong Germany and Japan. Anand also introduced me to the writings of Thomas Friedman and particularly his column in New York Times. But it was his book ‘The World is Flat’ that made him so dear to me and perhaps all Indians, including former President Kalam. Finally we did buy that book and went through it as Ramayana. That was the time when media and western columnists or academics were having only China to focus at. Friedman has made India known to west in a little different and respectable manner.
In last few months, I have been going through a number of books that have been written to document the emerging economies of India and China together. I came across the two most important ones that provide a comparative study of the rise of India and China: Tarun Khanna’s ‘Billion of Entrepreneurs‘ and Robyn Meredith’s ‘The Elephant and the Dragon’.
However, after reading Robyn Meredith’s book, I got shocked. How has a nation of a billion plus kept on clinging to Mao after all the massacres caused by his policies? As I understand even today none can talk anything against Mao unlike India where every Tom and Dick can come out with his or her views making Gandhi and Nehru a pygmy. Here are some excerpts from her book:
“Mao was determined to transform his nation into an industrial power. Peasants were required to hand over all private property- down to bicycles and cooking pots- first for redistribution from rich villages to poor villages, and later to be melted down in backyard furnaces. This nationwide archpelago of backyard furnaces was supposed to take China’s steel production beyond Britain’s. In some areas, good grain rotted in the fields because so many farmers were told to produce steel instead of taking in the harvest. Peasants turned into skeletons. Communal kitchens were serving only thin gruel, so farmers hunted for frogs or rats to eat. Eventually they ate grass and leaves and even stripped trees of their barks. Some starving families resorted to a practice called yi zi er shi: they traded a child for a neighbor’s child, then killed and ate the skinny youngster, with the sickening knowledge that their neighbors were devouring their own. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were dying. In some villages, whole families perished. In some counties, whole villages vanished. Mao’s policies created a nationwide famine in which between 30 and 40 million people starved to death between 1959 and 1962. Surprisingly, Military granaries were stuffed. While its people starved, China was exporting grain.”
“In addition to the massive human toll, books were burnt, Chinese art was destroyed, temples and monasteries were smashed, and contact with much of the outside world was severed. The nation’s universities closed their doors. For more than ten years, the only education allowed was the study of Communist Party propaganda and of Mao’s Little Red book.” Mao died in 1976. And he remains Gandhi for Chinese. Could Indians tolerate and then excuse if Gandhi or Nehru would have been responsible for that sort of tragedies in India after independence or handed over the country to Britishers?
The Chinese rise as world power can be appreciated only after understanding the consequences of that sort of breeding of a generation or two. Luckily Indians didn’t undergo any such mental agony. It is difficult to digest after reading about China’s economic gains, a para on the condition of working class. “Many factory workers are forced to work overtime long in to night without pay, left unpaid for months at a time, or even locked in factory compounds like prisoners.”
And let us look at another act of the Chinese government- the one-child policy, which began in 1979. “To enforce it, China formed a family-planning department with 300,000 workers nationwide. They are responsible for at least ten million coerced abortions and ten million sterilizations a year.” Did Chinese take some clues from Sanjay Gandhi’s family planning moves or Sanjay learnt some from the Chinese?
Very lately, India has started getting the limelight, perhaps because of its consistently high growth rate or West’s disenchantment with China. I came across a number of interesting books on the India’s story. It started with Edward Luce ‘In spite of Gods‘ that I bought. Anand brought Mira Kamdar’s Planet India. Then I read a review of Kamalnath’s India’s century and bought it along with ‘The Rise of India’ by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha. I came to know of Shashi Tharoor, when he contested for the post of Secretary General of UN. He failed but even the failing was impressive. I started noticing and going through his column in Sunday Times of India. And when his book ‘The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone came out in print, I couldn’t resist buying it.
I agree with Shashi Tharoor that India can’t reach anywhere near the Chinese economic miracles and its growth rate that is even today in double digits even on a higher base. The disruptive democracy of India can’t generate an inertia to cross double digit growth rate with leftists pulling downwards perhaps to keep China always ahead and with the caste-based political parties of north bent on dividing the country’s great creative human resources that could push the growth to the desired height. We can only hope against hope that one day, one of the national political parties rather than alliances of two-dozen parties with varying interests, may again rule the country.
And many will keep on writing wonderful books on Indian success story of its transformation from poverty to prosperity.