India, Russia and China’s different political cultures?

The outbreak of Corona virus in China had brought with it so many questions about how countries run their affairs. In today’s The Hindu (Feb, 17, 2020) there is an elaborate write-up on how the media is tightly controlled in China and how that had led to such scale of tragedy. There are such lessons for all countries in governance issues.

Jung Chang

I have three books before me written by the veteran lady journalist and writer, a former Chinese national, now a British citizen, the world- famous, author, Jung Chang. Her widely read book was on Mao. The other books are on her own family history, the latest on three sisters, one married Sun Yat-Sen, the founder of Chinese Republic in 1912 by overthrowing the last dynasty in China and her younger sister, May -ling is none other than Mrs. Chiang Kai-shek, the nationalist leader who was defeated by Mao’s Communist party. Jung Chang now lives in Britain.

The three books give a lot of information on how China had cordial relations in the pre-independence days with May-ling and Chiang visited Indian 1942,they also came to Santiniketan where they helped to found the famed Cheena Bhavan where I had the good fortune to study Chinese languages under the legendary Prof.Tan Yun-Shan! Where later in 1959 Choun-En-lai also visited and where he came into our Chinese language class room and shook our hands!

Of course very soon the India-China relations deteriorated and finally Nehru died in 1964 and many things changed. Few years ago I visited China, Shanghai city where I took pains to trace the residences where Sun Yat-sen, Mao’s own Shanghai residence and also that of Chou En-lai!

Now, what I want to convey to the Indian readers is that I was always interested in how democracies work after I read British Parliamentary History at Oxford and ever since I returned to India after visiting Soviet Russia my interest only continued.

Today, living though the years of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and later under various leaders as Prime Ministers with Emergency as the last phenomenon in India and now under the BJP government in the two terms I am also keen to reflect on the dimensions, great countries as varied as India, China and also Russia, not to forget the USA and other older democracies like Britain and other Western European countries have evolved as democracies and their successes and failures if any.

In India in particular, there is not much awareness, as I see, of the importance and significance of how we managed to retain democracy in the last 70 years of our freedom. Is Indian democracy at its best and how does our democratic institutions compare with other democratic countries.

It seems that in India of today there is no concern or debates at all about the need to retain any finer principles. The current scenario is one of mixed blessing if at all. The great countries like Russia and China are with big populations and compared to these governments Indian democracy is truly very big with 1.3 billion people. The world recognizes Russia and China as dictatorships, right? While India is recognized as a democracy and the outside world admires the way we run our periodic elections and our rule of law as mandated by the Constitution that is written and also as detailed by Constitution.

For long one party, namely, the Indian National Congress was the ruling party and now, there is a rival party as the BJP. The need and role of the Opposition party is recognized as the critical element in a democratic government, though this requirement is fully met with in many democracies.

In Britain, there is a long tradition of two party systems and the British Parliamentary History is a long and glorious one. But Indian Parliamentary history which is being guided by the conventions of the British House of Commons wherever there are no guidance in our written Constitution.

How far we have been sensitive and committed to democratic values is a matter for debate and this is the crux of the debate here. In China a few years ago, I was astonished by the speed of the economic progress and I used to tell myself often in China: India is still a poor country compared to China!

Such gigantic infrastructure, be it roads, even bullet trains, airports etc simply put me off!
As for the general peoples’ lives I found much liberalism, even much bourgeoisie values and also people freely enjoying themselves in public places!

In India there is unfortunately, suddenly much fear and silence and also suddenly, lately, a sort of spontaneous upsurge in protests!

This sort of phenomenon I was of course not prepared to, honestly. There are so many other distortions in public life as we have been accustomed to in the last 70 years!

Even I feel hesitant to speak out openly and freely. Now, latest I read in a Russian despatch published in The Hindu (Feb 16,2020) I find how Russia recognizes “Kremlin-sanctioned opposition” as opposed to other spontaneous protests, as in the recent case of other anti-government activism. Recently a court in a Russian city seven members of the Left group of youngsters to a cumulative term of 86 years!

There is no independent judiciary in Russia as we guess in China too. Of course there is no free press in Russia as in China. So, we have to read and write more after visiting and travelling across these countries.

Democracies in the USA and why even in Britain and other Western European countries, there are issues in their democracies and their own law and order and crime control laws etc. The prison systems there are also varied.

The point here is that as for our own democratic values and adherence to the finer Constitutional values we seem to go a long way after such decisions like actions of the government in J&K and also as to our own media freedoms and also now the long-prolonging public protests over the new changes in citizenship laws.

In the end we have to realise, as citizens and free people, we have to go a long way before all sections of people realise what is freedom about. There has not been any long tradition of seeking freedom, as it evolved in Britain after Magna Carta.

So, teaching of the role and place of freedom in our political life must start from the schools onwards. The road is of course very long and twisted and uphill, indeed!

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