CHINA and India are in a struggle for a top rung on the ladder of world power, but their approaches to the state and to power could not be more different.
Two days after last month’s terrorist attack on Mumbai, I met with a Chinese friend who was visiting India on business. He was shocked as much by the transparent and competitive minute-by-minute reporting of the attack by India’s dozens of news channels as by the ineffectual response of the government. He had seen a middle-class housewife on national television tell a reporter that the Indian commandos delayed in engaging the terrorists because they were too busy guarding political big shots. He asked how the woman could get away with such a statement.
I explained sarcasm resonates in a nation that is angry and disappointed with its politicians. My friend switched the subject to the poor condition of India’s roads, its dilapidated cities and the constant blackouts. Suddenly, he stopped and asked: “With all this, how did you become the second-fastest growing economy in the world? China’s leaders fear the day when India’s government will get its act together.”
The answer to his question may lie in a common saying among Indians that “our economy grows at night when the government is asleep.” As if to illustrate this, the Mumbai stock market rose in the period after the terrorist attacks. Two weeks later, in several state elections, incumbents were ousted over economic issues, not security.
All this baffled my Chinese friend, and undoubtedly many of his countrymen, whose own success story has been scripted by an efficient state. They are uneasy because their chief ally, Pakistan, is consistently linked to terrorism while across the border India’s economy keeps rising disdainfully. It puzzles them that the anger in India over the Mumbai attacks is directed against Indian politicians rather than Muslims or Pakistan.
By GURCHARAN DAS
The New York Times
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