Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bardhan Band!

Prof Bardhan writes with some setbacks from both 2008 Olympics of China and 2010 CWG of India. As for as India’s state of the political and games economy is concerned the following are must read.

  • ……. For this elite, it is not quite a matter of national humiliation that India continues to be the world’s largest country of illiterates and school dropouts, of child and maternal mortality, of stunted and underweight children. In broad health and education indicators, India today is where China was 40 years back, long before economic reform and high growth started there. Even in India’s economically most-advanced state, Gujarat, the proportion of malnourished children is much larger than in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • But the scathing commentary in the Indian media around the Commonwealth Games also reminds one about the sharp contrast with a major suppressed scandal in China around the time of the Olympics. A few weeks before the 2008 Olympics, there was what came to be called later the tainted milk scandal in China. Journalists were officially encouraged to suppress this bad news in view of the imminent Olympics, which was being stage-managed as China’s moment of international glory. Journalists who were fully aware of the large dimensions of the scandal avoided writing about it (though they duly warned their close friends and relatives about the milk) “in order to be harmonious”, as one editor said in justification later to a foreign reporter. Meanwhile nearly three hundred thousand children fell sick and dozens died. Somehow most of the Chinese elite, which is basking in superpower glory, did not consider this a matter of national humiliation.
  • Chinese official agencies have now declared the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, as an affront against Chinese national dignity and a malicious attempt to impose Western values on Chinese society. (One indignant Chinese ‘netizen’ announced that from now on he’d avoid Norwegian salmon, another vowed that next time he goes to Macao for gambling, he’ll boycott Norwegian prostitutes). The officials, of course, blithely ignore that China is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, and freedom of expression and protest is ornamentally a part of Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution. These ‘Western’ values of non-violent dissent are vociferously practised in several non-Western countries, including India where some have even traced these values to ancient Indian political philosophy and practice.
  • What is worrying is that this is not just Chinese official over-reaction and propaganda. Last year a prominent Beijing intellectual told me that dissidents like Liu Xiaobo have marginalised themselves in the Chinese intellectual community by aligning their cause too much to the West. This kind of attitude even among intellectuals makes it easy for the Chinese leadership to portray any external criticism of the regime as a slur on Chinese self-respect and any dissent as sedition. In both China and India particularly among the middle classes a kind of preening nationalism is raging. Of course, Indian political culture has been somewhat more tolerant of dissent and diversity, and electoral arithmetic often makes compromise and cooptation of dissenting groups necessary. Yet much of the rest of the country looks away – or regards it as the necessary price for keeping the nation state intact — as gross abuse of human rights and violence by the Indian Army and paramilitary regularly take place in Kashmir, Manipur and Bastar (Chhattisgarh) often reciprocated by the rebels. In different parts of India, the Hindu nationalist forces raise their ugly head, politically and socially, and win elections from time to time.

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