China has a strategic advantage over India because of its overflowing coffers. It is pouring huge amounts of money into its Road and Belt and String of Pearls projects. The idea is to bypass and, at the same time, encircle India and obtain unfettered access to West Asia and Africa, as well as Europe. Another supposed strength is the absolute control the Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping have over the nation. Dissent is brutally suppressed and policies are implemented unchallenged.
On the other hand, India’s democracy functions in a most chaotic manner – there is freedom not only to dissent, but also to disruptively oppose government policy, even in the important areas of defence and the economy. It becomes very difficult under such circumstances to prepare and implement effective counters to China’s long term strategies. The determination and the discipline required to compete on the international level are constricted by people’s divisive behaviour. There is absolutely no doubt that freedom is being greatly taken for granted.
It is not just the task of the government in power to build consensus on important national challenges such as this. There have to be strong civil society institutions working on informing and preparing citizens for this task. It has been seen how organised and inter-connected is the eco-system that seeks to destroy the Indian nation-state through exploitation of structural fault lines. This needs to be countered by not just a counter-narrative but also a strategy that goes beyond this level of friction. This can be done through building pride in India’s real achievements, particularly in being a functional democracy. Yes, this seeming cause of weakness is actually the greatest strength.
China’s desperate outreach is because it knows how dependent it is on developed markets. Its leaders realise that the means used to achieve the present success will dissipate within a decade, requiring a complete overhaul of systems. Everything is top down and individual growth beyond a point threatens the power structure. This is why its billionaires with global reach are being targeted to prevent autonomous capitalists with extra-territorial empires. On the other hand, brick and mortar, as well as labour intensive industries, are losing momentum. It needs the basic economies of Africa to shore up this industrial base, hence, the expansionist policy.
Democracies like India, however, continuously evolve even in the midst of destruction. The ongoing farmers’ protest may be taking on political dimensions, but it is also forcing the economy to reshape itself to overcome the disruption. The results will become evident over time. It is for the intelligentsia to read the early signs and prepare the nation for the challenges ahead. Challenges that cannot, as yet, even be defined in traditional terms. That will, ultimately, provide the answer to China’s challenge.