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Race with the dragon

Jairam Ramesh's book on China is an attempt to understand and not demonise China

Photo: murali kumar k.

CAN WE CATCH UP? Jairam Ramesh sees hope in leaner and 0meaner manufacturing units

Jairam Ramesh is convinced India should go the China way. Be clear, firm and pragmatic in public policy. There'll be problems but stay the course. Results will flow that will earn India respect from China and the world. Jairam, economist and parliamentarian representing the Congress is happy taking this line in his book, Making Sense of Chindia — Reflections on China and India even as he would like to say China is not all that easy. In the context of the launch, he shared his views on two asks: where India stands in comparison to China on economy and whether a romance is made of Indo-China relations every time a head of state visit happens.

IT scene

You point out Indian IT has been self-congratulatory for a decade now: less than two per cent in global software exports, no chip to name, not one major in embedded software/automation, nothing in hardware. And the English edge is fallacious because in less than five years China is set to swamp us. "Indian IT has three debilitating weaknesses. No hardware base at all. You cannot be a world IT power without that. No domestic software market, China has a huge one. And IT, an entirely English-based one, has not created new markets. The first phase has been good, a global presence has been achieved, but scales have to be higher."

India has a decent manufacturing history, thanks to Nehru. Some industrial majors from those times are doing well. But China has a massive edge there. Can we catch up? Jairam believes the hope is the new leaner and meaner manufacturing set-up written off five years ago in the wake of the services surge. "Pharmaceutical, auto and steel industries are doing well. But we are nowhere in the China league."

And isn't exporting raw material a major economic mistake? We give the ore; China makes the product. China is clever not to do this. Worse, we show this in export revenues having limited reserves. Jairam says India exports ore to South Korea and Japan too. He believes it is a wrong strategy. "China insists on value addition internally. We should do the same when we have the lowest cost producer of steel in the world at Jamshedpur."

Population policy in China is strict even if disagreeable. It might show benefits soon. How much can India give with its limited resources? And we hold out Indian democracy and Chinese authoritarianism to stave off lack in our economy and polity, don't we? The book, Jairam says, is precisely a study of two different socio-political systems and cultures at work. It is not evaluative or competitive, but one in the spirit of evolution in historical and contemporary terms. "Population control is not easy here. There are lessons from the Emergency. We will soon overtake China and have the world's largest youngest population in the world. China may have a one-child policy, but it will face the problem of an aging population. That could be our edge."

"And I don't think we should overdo the democracy bit. I argue that we are a centralised democracy and China a decentralised authoritarianism. Here the Centre gives to the States, there the provinces give to the Centre. Democracy is no alibi for bad economy."

Similar cultures

Jairam's book looks at India and China as similar cultures from the past, while registering the differing polities of the present. Beginning from the word Mandarin, a derivative from the Sanskrit mantrin, and the Hindi chai, a derivative from cha, to two cultures that have not traditionally been expansionist, in China the many sects that make up the Han, and in India the Hinduism of the old, the book argues there are two civilisations here, apart from slips in modern times, that were not essentially war-mongering. Drawing from these essential cultural similarities and the modern thaw in relations, Jairam suggests the one equation the world could fear is an Indo-China one.

But can we trust China? "Can we trust India for that matter? Look, they withdrew in 1962 from here. They withdrew in February 1979 from Vietnam. They did not help Pakistan during Kargil. They have now recognised Sikkim. And border talks are on."

What about the Chinese military build-up in recent times? Their designs on Central Asian oil and South East Asia?

"What about our build-up? And as a matter of fact, India and China are collaborating in major oil projects in Central Asia. There was a time when Singapore never looked this side, but they are now reaching out."

The book attempts to understand, not demonise or romanticise China, says Jairam. In all the cloud, what is one to make of India building a statue of Buddha in Luoyang and China doing the same in Sarnath? "The idea is to engage."

PRASHANTH G.N.

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