Pankaj Mishra writes: China is shakily authoritarian while India is a stable democracy—indeed, the world’s largest. So goes the cliché, and it is true, up to a point. But there is a growing resemblance between the two countries. A decade after we were told that China and India were “flattening” the world, expediting a historically inevitable shift of power from West to East, their political institutions and original nation-building ideologies face a profound crisis of legitimacy. Both countries, encumbered with dynastic elites and crony capitalists, are struggling to persuasively reaffirm their founding commitments to mass welfare. Protests against corruption and widening inequality rage across their vast territories, while their economies slow dramatically.
If anything, public anger against India’s political class appears more intense, and disaffection there assumes more militant forms, as in the civil war in the center of the country, where indigenous, Maoist militants in commodities-rich forests are battling security forces. India, where political dynasties have been the rule for decades, also has many more “princelings” than China—nearly 30 percent of the members of parliament come from political families. As the country intensifies its crackdown on intellectual dissent and falls behind on global health goals, it is mimicking China’s authoritarian tendencies and corruption without making comparable strides in relieving the hardships faced by its citizens. The “New India” risks becoming an ersatz China.
To those in the West who reflexively counterpose India to China, or yoke them together, equally tritely, as “rising” powers, the solutions to their internal crises seem very clear: Democratic India needs more economic reforms—in other words, greater openness to foreign capital. Meanwhile, authoritarian China, now endowed with a cyber-empowered and increasingly assertive middle class, must expose its anachronistic political system to the fresh air of democracy. [Continue reading…]