And then there is China…

It is important to record the fact (without prejudging it at this stage) that China has postponed till 2020 the date of direct elections (under universal suffrage) to the legislature in Hong Kong. We will take this into consideration when we develop our thesis on governance in developing societies.

It is also of interest to record that the British ruled Hong Kong for 150 years without it occurring to them how wonderful it was to be governed through the exercise of universal suffrage. It was only guaranteed in the Basic Law that was established when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997. 

So it was a parting gift that China has refused to accept. And this refusal is quite enough to trigger a lot of thinking and rethinking. Let us think before we rush to judgment. 

But lest we be misunderstood, let us also reiterate that the alternative to universal suffrage is not dictatorship. That is where the need for creativity comes in. The task is to propose a mode of governance that is compatible with the social reality (and therefore stable) and is also a mechanism to ensure social and economic justice to the most oppressed groups in society.

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2 Responses to “And then there is China…”

  1. Vijay Says:

    The need for a political form that is compatible with the social reality of the Subcontinent is essential. I agree with you there.

    What I would question however, is your assumption that a dictatorship, by its very nature is antagonistic to the most oppressed groups in society. Why do you assume this?

    Surely, China’s success in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty goes some way in vindicating market authoritarianism as a form of government, at least in non-Western societies.

    At the risk of being branded an outcast, a developmental dictatorship is probably the best form of government that the Subcontinent could hope for. India’s story is quite a tragic one in this context, as the two alternative visions of political order in India – Patel’s and Bose’s were snuffed out by accidents of history and Nehru’s social democratic vision won out. If a certain plane hadn’t crashed off the coast of Taiwan, we might have been having a very different conversation.

    Still, the task before us today is to broaden the intellectual horizons of politics in the Indian Subcontinent. There is little we can do beyond that. Electoral politics in India has its own logic and is impervious to intellect.

    • SouthAsian Says:

      Vijay: I am trying to get away from a simplistic counterposing of democracy (as we know it in South Asia) and dictatorship as if they exhausted the set of alternatives for governance. Yes, China has lifted millions out of poverty but it also sent 40 million to their death in the Great Leap Forward (see this post on China). The risk of this sort of outcome that can result from an autocratic government is not acceptable. As it is, in this day and age contemplating a form of governance that ignores the preferences of citizens is not a realistic option. As you mention, we have to take the starting point in India as a given. My interest is to think about how the representative form of government can be made better to serve the interest of the majority of the population; hence the focus on rules in the series on democracy of which this post is a part and the attempt to make it a part of the public discourse. Call it an attempt at intelligent design.

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