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Competing Systems

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According to a Chinese expert, his country believes it is a ‘democracy’, just not as inefficient like the liberal ones. China believes in ‘outcomes’ rather than the processes. Going by the statistics and its growing global clout, the outcomes have been quite excellent, certainly as compared to India, for instance. And if the present state of ‘world leader’ United States is to be considered, it is going through an almost anarchic social upheaval that is certainly going to have an impact on the overall bottom line. A defector to the US has actually said the situation is worse than in her native North Korea – obviously based on very narrow criteria, but worth noting. Russia under autocrat Putin has been doing rather well in achieving its goals, unfazed by the animosity of the western world.

So, what do liberal democracies have to say for themselves? Is the dictum – the ends don’t justify the means – applicable in a present day world facing multiple crises? Is it better to have the kind of ‘disciplined’ populations that exist in totalitarian systems when coping with the Covid-19 pandemic? In the case of China, for instance, it has been achieved through the deaths of approximately a hundred million people through the direct actions of the state. The outcome has been possibly countless lives saved in dealing with the pandemic. In contrast, the Indian Government has had to face constant heckling and resistance while combating the virus. It cannot even get the farmers blockading Delhi and other places to go home. The health and economic consequences of this ‘freedom’ have been heavy.

If China and its growing number of ‘vassal’ states continue to achieve their goals, while the democracies flounder, what will be the fate of the ‘freedoms’ that people enjoy? Can a ‘responsible’ citizenry emerge only from state imposed discipline or can it come from the ‘raised consciousness’ of individuals? How positive is freedom of religious practice to a nation’s well-being, given the history of conflict? Can democracies replete with diversity compare with nations that impose just one racial model upon its citizens? These are some of the questions underlying the struggles liberal democracies are going through at the present. The objective should be to help each other overcome the challenges; instead they are allowing the illiberal ideologies to ‘use democracy to destroy democracy’ (as one commentator has put it). In this context, criticism of India does not come so much from its enemies as it does from those that claim to be model democracies. What an irony!