What do we know of Russia either?
We in India seem to know much about the West, about UK and Europe and the USA.
But we don’t seem to know, or don’t care to know about other big nations?
I am sure we know pretty little about what life is like inside China. Much more so in the same way we seem to know very little inside Russia.
The world media, the TV channels, the BBC or other US channels like CNN are broadcasting in China. When we were there in China recently we were using the international channels in our hotel rooms. But we were not sure how much it was a free broadcast and how much it was censored. There was no way to know those details.
But there was no press freedom. That much can be said with certainty. There was one broadsheet, that too very thin and obviously censored as distributed in our rooms and only rarely we saw a big broad sheet.
The English language newspapers were not at all sold in any newsstands.
The biggest bookshop, we were told and we were directed to by many bystanders was a big disappointment. The sever storey building as really massive. But what was the merchandise?
All in Chinese language. Books were all almost reminding us of the old Soviet Russian day’s bookshops in Moscow. The top floor where we saw some English language books, they were simply old fashioned English classics, not even they were up today. The English magazine section was very thin and very poor. The one-week old The Economist was displayed. Also, the American Time magazine that when we were there displayed on the cover Manmohan Singh as a weak Prime Minister!
But this was ain great contrast in Hong Kong where it was like being in London.
All the latest British magazines, The Economist, The New Statesman and even the English edition of Le Monde, of course, the The International Herald Tribune were all there in full display. Why, even in the streets of Hong Kong in the Bay Area, there were newsstands that displayed the latest Financial Times.
The local newspaper, the South China Post was a free journal, it seemed, the news were fresh and critical of politics on the mainland China and it looked we lived in a free and separate country. Hong Kong might not go back to the mainland style censorship and freedom of the press is sure to survive.
So, in China it was a great deal of contrast to see people enjoy a high standard of living; Shanghai was a modern city with all luxury goods on display. Almost all the latest Pairs brands were on display! Why, all the latest luxurious cars, car brands, Rolls Royce, Poirsche and other Italian designed car brands had show rooms. These show rooms every day we passed through and even had a look into some of them!
There was much freedom in the ordinary peoples’ movements and their conversations. We could interact with ordinary Chinese young men and women; there was much spontaneity in the conduct of the people. In fact, we could disregard the official Chinese tourist information map and search for the great leader’s residences, Sun Yat Sen, Chiang Kei shek, Madam Sun Yat sen’s own residence, why, even Mao’s own Shanghia’s residence-all these places we were free to go and do what we wanted to do.
In fact, we came back with the satisfaction that we were free to visit all the places in China n we were able to report that there is freedom of the citizens in the cities. In fact, every evening we looked forward eagerly to visit the favourite Nanjing Road which was banned for traffic, all the pavements were made into marble floors so that people, pedestrians can walk past the street faced shops easily and in a leisurely way. People thronged the streets, in fact, people joined there in dances, there were ball dancing on the pavements, street centres, much music shows and what not. This, I took it as a sign of peoples’ free live styles!
There is much room for fast growth for the ordinary citizens in today’s China.
So, the latest news about the third plenum, the 376 members of the Communist Party of China met for four days, behind the closed doors, in a military-run hotel in west Beijing etc read like a bizarre old style secretive Communist conspiracy!
This is unfortunate. For we believe that the new China under Xi Jinping gives all indications of a new, open-minded (if not open-society reforms. But the way the meet is reported in the foreign media reads like a true old fashioned oppressive state and party machine. May be we have to wait for foreign media and foreign experts to know more about what the new market-based economic reforms would amount to.
The two or three new features revealed by the current CPI meet are1.private land ownership by farmers. At present farmers cant own land and not sell. The new reform is to confer property rights to farmers so that they can buy and sell land and therefore there will be incentives for more production of food etc.2.The state-owned enterprises, (like our PSUs? The Indian media correspondent doesn’t explain for the benefit of Indian readers) would loosen their party control. They party bosses now control such enterprises. What does this mean in practice? No one has specified.3.The party-controlled courts would be reformed. Again, what does this mean? The judiciary would become independent? No one has specified.
The point is that these reforms, after all, might only lead to practices in free market economies? What other alternative is there for such reforms?
So, the current economic reforms are one thing. Any other political reforms? Unless there is some freedom to choose party affiliation, then, it becomes a one-party state.
At least in Russia, there are some party reforms. There are other parties in Russia that oppose Putin, the President who otherwise remains a dictator for all practical purposes.
In Russia, on the other hand there are political reforms, there is a contest and there is democracy, there is an elected parliament.
In China, the whole system remains classical party dictatorship. But in Russia too there are some bizarre situations. At the moment there is the famous (infamous trial?) going on in Moscow. That is the trial Mikhail Khodorkovsky, at one time, Russia’s richest man. He as close to Yeltsin, the first elected president o Russia.
Khodorskovsky was once the most famous face outside Russia and he was a welcome visitor to the White House and a frequent face at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Jailed on fabricated charges to serve an eight year term, he was banished to Siberia. So, he is called the famous prisoner of the once infamous Gulag!
How to explain the Russian government, its economic management, its famed Oligarchs!
So, we find that both in China and Russia the system of government looks very primitive, if we apply the standards of the West, Western democracies. The two countries don’t have any Constitution or conventions of any constitutional political conduct.
Their talk of ideology, be it Communism r Russian style ideology, all seem very backward, if not plain police state. We in India, remain friendly with both China and Russia.
Russia for a longer time, China from the 1949 Revolution.
Our friendship with these countries date back to the Nehru years. Today the world has changed, for the better, hopefully. The democracies have come in most countries, big and small. There are constitutions in most democracies.
So, what is the future for China and Russia, both in the short term and in the long term?
India has a big role to play in the evolution of democratic culture. But then India must practice its democracy much more seriously than what we have today.
This is the one aspect about which lot of thinking elite in the country has to become more sensitive. At least in this area the Indian elite, the intellectuals and the media must speak out and become a force to the outside world.