Indian Democracy’s China Responsibility

Between 1851 and 1864, China was convulsed by the Taiping rebellion against the Qing dynasty. Britain using its Indian troops intervened on behalf of the Qing in order to try and put down the insurrection. However, from 1857 onwards, when the sepoy mutiny broke out in India, small numbers of Indian soldiers inspired by events back home often switched sides to join the Chinese rebels in the ‘anti-imperial’ struggle. [1]

While ties between the rebellions in China and in India never developed further and both were eventually crushed, the point here is that history is witness to ordinary Chinese and Indians coming together on the basis of shared experiences. A more famous instance came some 80 years later when Dwarakanath Kotnis and four other Indian physicians joined the Chinese war of resistance against imperial Japan.

It should therefore, be no surprise that a Chinese website, ibribery.com (now no longer available), was apparently inspired by the Indian ipaidabribe.com. As the Indian and Chinese governments move at a glacial pace to improve their relations – military dialogue between the two sides finally resumed this week after being frozen for a year – a newly active civil society is at work on both sides. On the Indian side, an anti-corruption movement has won prominence worldwide, despite its many flaws, and limited support base among a tiny urban elite. In China meanwhile, corruption is just as bad or possibly even more serious a problem and part of what drives a host of challenges to Beijing in the form of human rights activists, independent candidates for local elections, and calls for legal reform.

Talk of the relationship between the two rising powers usually limits itself to the state of affairs between the two governments and their functionaries. However, no bilateral relationship can be a truly multi-dimensional and creative partnership if contact is limited only to the governments and a few social and economic elites. As two countries that account for a third of the world’s population, India and China are letting themselves down badly by not ensuring greater and more frequent contacts between their peoples.

Naturally, there are deep-seated prejudices that need to be overcome on both sides. And if this were not enough, the Chinese government for its part is afraid what a flow of ideas from India could imply for Chinese civil society, while the Indian government even more shortsightedly considers visits by Chinese (and Pakistanis) as potential security risks instead of potential opportunities to change mindsets and stereotypes.

However, in the age of technology, visa requirements do not necessarily limit exchange or learning between peoples as the case of the two websites shows. While democracy’s various variants outside the Western world are often stunted or flawed, it remains a deeply inspirational ideal and India as the most successful non-Western model should take its role as an exemplar more seriously. Even as New Delhi deals with the governments of China and Pakistan, Indians must not forget to communicate the ‘idea of India’ to ordinary Chinese and Pakistanis.

That idea must encompass critical self-reflection by both the government and the people of India for it to be truly effective. However, in the desire to match China’s growth and influence, India has often aped Chinese methods and principles.

New Indian government proposals like restrictions on “objectionable content” on the Internet or the tightening of the FCRA to limit the scope of activities of non-profit organizations – charities, research organizations, advocacy groups and the like – are similar enough to Chinese regulations to warrant raising questions about the nature and direction of the Republic. In an age, where China’s own citizens dare to criticize and lampoon their “Ministry of Truth” – the catchall phrase describing propaganda and media filtering agencies in the Chinese state and party machinery – why are Indian freedoms regressing?

Indian civil society movements also do not help matters if they abandon due process and adopt quick-fix approaches to addressing problems of governance. That can only lead to a further undermining of the Constitution and its principles.

A rising China is also a China of its people and their rising expectations of their government. The business of inspiring China and the Chinese is not one of the United States and Americans alone. India and Indians too, can step in. But let us not be caught being hypocritical or taking short-cuts, for the Chinese are watching.


[1] For more on this episode in history see BR Deepak, “The 1857 Rebellion and Indian Involvement in the Taiping Uprising in China” in Madhavi Thampi (ed.), India and China in the Colonial World (New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2005), pp. 139-149.

Read the original article here: Jabin T. Jacob, “Sino-Indian ties must evolve from see no Indians, hear no Chinese,” DNA, 1 July 2011.

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