Miracles never cease. On March 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a gathering of BJP workers “I have a milestone of 2022 when India completes 75 years of independence.” He wanted everyone to take up a project for the good of the country and complete it by 2022.
On March 13, China’s official news agency said that President Xi Jinping had picked a milestone, 2022. Xinhua explained that later this year the National Congress would elect a new leadership for another five-year term, “the crunch period of President Xi’s vision of a well-off nation by the party’s 100th anniversary”, which falls in 2022. Neither country noticed the milestones coinciding.
Modi talked about his vision of a new India rising. Xinhua news agency dwelt on President Xi’s “governance philosophy”, which was “leading more than 1.3 billion people on the march toward the Chinese dream”. It said that by 2020 “China’s GDP is expected to exceed $13 trillion. There should be a middle class population of about 400 million by then, a huge market for the world.”
Both leaders turned visionaries and presented their dreams and their plans to their people. But the comparison between the two cannot go any further. Xi Jinping presides over a one-party system. What’s more, unlike his predecessors, he has concentrated all power in himself. That and the effusiveness of media build-up currently going on are reminiscent of the personality cult that marked Chairman Mao’s reign.
Narendra Modi is more powerful than the prime ministers of the past. This strength comes primarily from the power of his own personality and the star quality he has achieved in public life. That the victory in this election is Modi’s rather than the BJP’s is by now common knowledge. For once P Chidambaram struck a truthful note when he described Modi as the country’s “most dominant political leader” (much to the chagrin of his own Congress Party’s dominant leaders). But Modi operates in a parliamentary system with limitations Xi is free from. Besides, he does not have the seasoned, talented, dedicated apparatchiks Xi can rely on. Modi’s apparatchiks do not even seem to comprehend his lofty ideals.
Modi said, “My vision for a new India is about empowering the poor with opportunities, the only thing that will propel India forward.”
None of his partymen on the ground in UP rose to that level of thinking. They were only concerned with winning by hook or by crook. The party manifesto talked about Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and facilities for visiting Hindu holy places by helicopter; the party’s star campaigner, Yogi Adityanath did what he is best at—polarising people along religious lines; Sakshi Maharaj publicly disagreed with his Prime Minister’s view that equal attention should be paid to graveyards and crematoria, his own view being that there should be no graveyards at all in India: all citizens should be cremated whatever their religion. No hint anywhere here of empowering the poor or reflecting the Prime Minister’s vision.
A one-party and one-leader system is prone to no such contradictions. Potential rivals of Xi Jinping have been imprisoned or otherwise neutralised in the name of his anti-corruption drive. Nevertheless, Xinhua is able to report that the anti-corruption campaign has gathered “crushing momentum” and “at least 240 senior officials and more than 1 million lower-level officials have been investigated.”
Media eulogisation of Xi is fulsome, referring to him as a reformer who has scripted “China’s own story, neither copied from other countries nor imposed on any” and has taken China’s economy to a level where “it contributes over 30 per cent of world economic growth”.
China is positioning itself not as a regional power any longer but as a pacesetter of the world when it talks of its “reform juggernaut” and its supreme leader’s vision. It is pitted against the United States and sees itself wresting leadership away from today’s superpowers. Xi’s flagship project, the Belt and Road Initiative, symbolises China’s uniqueness. Xinhua proclaims: “In three years Chinese businesses have helped build 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in 20 countries with total investment exceeding 18 billion US dollars. They have helped generate more than $1 billion in tax revenues and create more than 1,60,000 jobs for host countries.”
Big gains, big claims. We are not in the same league. We are proud of our expensive elections, of our ability to stall Parliament sessions as per rules. We enjoy warring with ourselves. We are a democracy. We are India. We are like this only.