Sunday, April 15, 2012

India & China- The Next Question?

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India& China: The Battle between Soft and Hard Power by Prem Shankar Jha, Penguin/Viking, 398 pp; Rs599 (Hardback)

Prem Shankar Jha belongs to that class of journalists who could turn meticulous empirical observation with very high scholarship for his analysis and perceptions. In his journalistic career spanning over five long decades, he has been proving his descript authority in various areas, most noticeably in foreign affairs. With increasing his concentration on China, in 2010, he published two books on China's development. The first, “Managed Chaos,” dealt with the fragility of the Chinese miracle-so far it was indeed being taken literally but this book shaped the opinion for a more radical truth about the pros and cons of China’s extractive system.

Much before Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s bestselling book-Why Nations Fail, Mr. Jha had proved that China’s crouching and India’s hidden status is not going to be long lasting, as soon the democracy would give India a much sharper edge over China’s hard and fast systemic solipsism! He uncovered many paper trails to placate the well trodden belief that China is destined to grow indefinitely at 10 per cent. He identified the impeding areas that may hamper sustained growth but ofcourse without scarifying the deserving extol where China has made commendable progress. Most remarkably, he attempted and succeeded well to establish the complex web of social, political, and economic factors that shape and pose challenges for China's growth.

The second book internationally published as “Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West?” and later with present title for Indian subcontinent as “India& China: The Battle between Soft and Hard Power “dismissed the turpitude notions about China having an edge over India and refereed that both have different problems at the bottom level. However, he makes it clear that many similarities in their trajectories of growth and experiences have remained unnoticed under variant ideological preoccupations in comparative dealing of these two giant powers. The title, “The battle between soft and hard power”, is in no manner themed forwardly as basic contention in this book, rather it exemplifies the two different political systems under these nations are dwelling and their fateful ways lying ahead.

The book is documented into parallel parts that deal individually with China and India, tracing the history of their metamorphosis from closed and mixed economy into market economies and in the process revealing their commonness. Jha produce a unique thought how, “contrary to universal belief, India did not embark on its reforms in 1991, all of 13 years after China, but around the same time”, with Indira Gandhi’s 1980 government and later Rajiv Gandhi’s government marking the beginnings of a liberalized regime from the command economy. Both India and China moved with a gradualist approach on reform, which under the intense pressure of rapid industrial openness later caused for the wave of corruption in governments.

In initial four chapters, comparisons and contrasts between the two countries are the focus area and that makes this book very insightful. Knowing about the “intermediate class” from this book would be helpful in searching the factors behind the accelerated growth in China, but similar observation which could have made easily, is missing on India. The rest chapters are like case based studies on China and India, whose values would be ageless as such work of deep concentration reappears not more often.

This book is a timely intervention, to unleash the actuality of crisis ridden west’s overt exuberance for world’s most happening economies-China and India or CHINDIA. In retrospect, it was an attempt by a leading investment company, Goldman Sachs, to lure investments into Asia at a time when the United States market was sagging. As Jha says, “projections of China's and India's future, such as those made by Goldman Sachs in its BRICs report, … fail to take into account the fact that the two countries are not simply undergoing rapid economic growth, but undergoing transformation into capitalist states.” Hence his critical views put forth a cautionary discourse for both nations to address their unresolved bilateral issues if really they have to reorientalise the existing economic-strategic order of the world.

The growing strength of local authorities is leaving mixed effects on the growth in China; but proportionally, more it has benefitted than tolling any big damage. Also it has not weakened the dominant centralized core of Beijing, as it became evident when China put through very actively a massive stimulus programme of $590 billion after the financial crisis. Though, Jha has not appreciated the role and strength of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and there may have some reasons, specifically in broad context. On India, Jha argues that the decline of Congress, the advent of coalition politics in late 1980’s, and the Supreme Court's decision on the Centre's powers under Article 356 of the Constitution have weakened the state-that’s to an extant true though existence of state is still very strong in India and no reason is visible for its seizure in foreseeable future.

Jha’s insights on the real scores of China’s growth are a pathbreaking contribution, which suddenly allows readers to get free from the abundantly stocked fancied views on the same matters. Moreover, he leads readers into the fateful years of China’s policy reform in the 1980s, when the foundations of China’s cadre capitalism were established. Jha paints a genuinely bleak picture of a troubled state with local officials increasingly running out of control, given their power to take loans from banks free of the responsibility to pay them back. A very right observation that much of the foreign investment-fuelled growth witnessed by the country, argues Jha, is a house built on sand.

A finding of this book is quite havocking regarding the dualist temptations of Chinese society towards the Chinese Communist Party-there seems marked difference in actual internal feelings and its expressions. It seems astonishing, how alike elites and working classes publicly announces their sycophant loyalty for the centralized role of Communist party. Notwithstanding an ideological attachment that shows such restricted voices as the side effects of China’s closed polity, which the author of this book rationally presents as China’s major impediment in smoothly sustaining its impressive growth for long. Not surprising, if with its rigidly monopolized political system, Beijing is usually able to successfully continue its strong political authoritarianism even with its high economic growth.

But Premshankar Jha does admit that while China’s leaders are aware of the dangers, and on the constant look-out for solutions to contain social discontentment, India’s political leadership is “thoroughly unaware” of the dangers that lie ahead. He pragmatically appears to favour India’s chances given its democratic system and the existence of institutions consolidated by the democratic ethos that could manage social conflict. Mr. Jha makes it clear that India has some strong advantage over China with its democracy but in its current state, things would be difficult for India to compete China’s enterprising capacity.

In the near future, as the major constituents of BRICS and even beyond it, both the nations would compete in economic race where the fair political system would decide the real courses of action. This book should be in the must read priority of all those who continue to struggle to reckon and analyse the fundamentals of liberalized growth in India and China. With this second major work on the India-China project, gifted narrator Premshankar Jha naturally stands as the most authentic source of knowledge on the world’s two most diversely complex nations!
Atul Kumar Thakur
April 16, 2012, Monday, New Delhi

1 comment:

  1. Great piece Atul ! I really liked the title of your write-up :India & China- The Next Question?Thanks for the share .Hope this topic brings amongst the fellow FBians an -energetic, constructive, free-wheeling, and provocative debate : The relation between China and India ?Well ,learning about India and China and the way Indo-China relationship is stacked up - It has always been a"HOT" topic for almost all knowing who is going to take over whom ?---As per the statistics (India’s illiteracy rate is nearly 40 percent and China’s is nearly 10 percent ) -As you rightly mentioned~~ China is destined to grow indefinitely at 10 per cent.China will definitely take over India soon in terms of the labor ranking and. I chose to differ when people say that India has outgrown in economy when compared with China .China dominates India in almost every similarities -Even when we compare the financial capitals of these two countries Shanghai been the Financial market of China and Mumbai been the hub of finance in India there is enormous variations.I vaguely remember reading an article on this occassion were the author happen to visit India and he shared his experience about our country.India is atleast 20 years behind China. Even the IT software industry which Indians are very proud of, he says it lags behind China in terms of scale and innovation. They are mostly low-tech coding work without any creativity.So ,were are we heading in IT Software industry now ? Would like to share an educative link for the readers to know more about China's growth :

    I better reserve my comments on who is going to outsmart whom :) So, where are India and China headed from here? Atul Kumar Thakur and Abhinav Kumar Thakur your thughts