The comparison brings to mind the old school debate about the well fed slave versus the starving free man. Indias elite would argue that the freedoms we enjoy have more value than being well fed, but that is because we already are well fed! For a different perspective, we must ask those below the poverty line about the relative value of things such as press freedom (cant read anyway), the right to vote (rather have food), and our elected representatives (the less said the better).
But on a serious note, there are some things that are completely impossible to do in India, for example, the one-child policy in China. Having just one child has become a way of life for most Chinese and seriously compromises their otherwise higher quality of life. Such policies reveal the iron grip with which the Chinese communist government manages its people, enforcing unpopular policies with single-minded determination. It is like the army running the country, once it decides on a course of action, the whole machinery swings into action behind the decision. Dissent is not tolerated, slackness is not condoned.
So far, it has worked for the countrythe government has taken a prudent pathits macro strategy of putting peoples economic welfare ahead of a social agenda, and then consistently delivering high growth rates has been extraordinary. But the economically enlightened dictatorship could so easily have taken the wrong path, and still can.
In infrastructurebuildings, roads, airports, etcChina is far ahead
But on the social issues front, India is well ahead of China
China has to work to develop its financial system and provide social freedom
The Chinese governments attitude towards privatisation, the private sector and foreign participation has undergone a significant change in recent months. There is a clear shift towards encouraging privatisation of state assets and encouraging entrepreneurial talent in the country.
The situation in India is quite different. We have a vibrant private sector, strong capital markets and a strong financial sector. On the other hand, we are more restrictive than China on foreign direct participation; we still cling to the concept of state ownership of assets, and to outdated labour laws. Because the Chinese communist party does not have to be elected, they can afford to do whats right for the country as a whole. This is unlike our comrades, who have to represent their vested interests who help them get elected. This explains the paradox that a true communist government can be more capitalist than one that operates in a democratic country.
In sum, it is a race between Chinas government and the growing Indian private sector. If the Indian government is able to create a more conducive environment and increase the field of play while at the same time reducing the number of rules that govern that play, if it allows in the best players from other countries, and if it ensures that the field of play is even, I see no reason why India cannot be on the same growth trajectory that China currently enjoys, at the same time having the kind of freedoms that an ordinary Chinese can only dream of.
For example, having two children!
The writer is president, finance, Aditya Birla group. These are his personal views