Anyone who still thinks India’s main rival is Pakistan has not entered the 21st century.
Back in the older days, I remember we would be filled with pride upon reading flattering statistics such as the number of soldiers in the Indian Army vis-a-vis the Pakistani Army. But something changed since then. Pakistan stagnated, India inched ahead while China simply pressed the fast forward button.
It was not long ago that India’s defence was superior to China’s. Now even such a thought is considered laughable. This article will make the case that India’s real competition will now come from China and not Pakistan.
In 1947, India and Pakistan were partitioned amidst much civil upheaval and riots. As is normal after any break up, feelings of jealousy and competitiveness arose. The two countries (Pakistan more so than India) made each other the centre of their development goals. So money began pumping in in trying to outdo each other. But while we were still infatuated with our Western neighbour, something was taking place quite discreetly on our eastern borders. A nation was busy reviving itself and clocking massive double digit growth. Having neglected that amidst the heavy illusion of false pride with respect to Pakistan, the result is that today, India is an ENTIRE generation behind China.
Today, China is building infrastructure that is surpassing America’s. Already the world’s fastest train has come up, covering the distance between Beijing and Shanghai in 2 hours 45 minutes (compared to which India’s fastest train the New Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi express would take about 7 hours 10 minutes in covering the same distance!) A friend of mine, who has recently come from China, summed up the attitude differences very nicely, saying “In India we like to make comparisons with China, In China they like to make comparisons with America”
And this is the scary part. That China is not even bothered about us, taking us to be no more than a regional itch in the back. A mention of India is still hyphenated with Pakistan.
So what should India really be doing? My view is that we must stick to our democratic principles while finding a way out. Because we cannot and should not become a dictatorship, to take on China, we need to summon all our energy and determination to kick-start the democratic engine so that it delivers promptly and properly rather than laggardly and lethargically as is the case now. For that the government must be capable of taking tough decisions. Already the government was in two minds about the rollback of petrol prices. If the govt. is not even strong enough to stand by its own decisions then competing with the headstrong leadership of the Communist Party of China can remain a pipe-dream.
China’s decision making prowess is something that takes even the Americans by awe. But this does not directly imply that a democracy cannot function at high levels of efficiency. Case in point: America’s response to the launch of Sputnik by the erstwhile Soviet Union. That lesson of history, more than anything else shows that if democratic countries can pull up their socks and work in a single direction, they too can become unbeatable.
In the end I am reminded of a quote from Gurcharan Das that I hope will be the guiding light in our attitude towards our neighbours, “If Pakistan pulls us down into an abyss of terrorism and identity politics, China will lift us up, I think, firing our ambition for better roads, schools and health centres” The best example that describes India’s state versus that of China is the endless ruckus over our preparations for the Commonwealth Games and the smooth steamrolling by China at putting up Beijing 2008.
If Sardar Vallabbhai Patel were alive today, he’d be quick to comment, “Well folks the dragon has entered the forest and it’s about time the tiger got prepared.”