What's the story?
Well, in the year 2008, before the Beijing Olympics were to be held, a group of prominent Chinese intellectuals and dissidents met to discuss and debate the issue of "Universal Human Values" and whether these truly are universal (and hence worth pursuing) or - as the Chinese Communist Party likes to put it - a Western plot to push its own values onto the unsuspecting East.
The meeting ended with the creation of a Charter called the Charter 08 - which was a declaration that certain values like freedom of speech and democracy are indeed worth pursuing, are universal, and hence even in China, they must have a possibility of democratic debate and ultimately, a democratic government system.
This was enough to enrage the Chinese government. Obviously! So they did what they are best at - a rapid crackdown saw most of these intellectuals behind bars, Mr Liu included. The charges were 'revolt against the state'. But what Mr Liu had done was not unique. This was the feeling in the minds of a large number of Chinese, although not many openly speak up in the Chinese system of perpetual repression of free speech.
This incident opens up a lot of issues worth pondering.
- How long can the Chinese trick of posturing (aggressively) before various world governments continue? Every time some head of state wants to meet the Dalai Lama, there is a stern warning issued by Beijing warning them of dire consequences. Even Norway was issued a similar warning recently (that relations will sour between the nations if the peace award was indeed given to Mr Liu). But Norway went ahead and did it. It's another matter that the Norwegian government is now trying to project that the Prize Committee and the Government are two distinct entities!
- What is the "Chinese model of growth" that so many of us in India are also enamoured of? Put simply, it is a model of forced growth, where one central planning body takes all the decisions, and simply puts them into execution. They do not seek anyone's views, permission or dissidence! They just go ahead and do it, Nike style! There are no courts to interfere, and definitely no free media to slow them down. This model has created an amazing material prosperity for large parts of the Chinese mainland, and has been touted as perhaps a model that India would be better off with. In short, this is a model that does not value democracy, and believes firmly in "ends justifying the means".
- A lot of Indians too have a feeling that perhaps this "Chinese model" may be better for India. They are lulled into thinking so because what we see around us is a lot of poverty, illiteracy and decadence. They see corruption, debilitating delays in the judicial machinery and horrendous inefficiencies. And they come to a simple conclusion - "Democracy is the main cause of India's backwardness".
- I beg to differ. I strongly feel that democracy is a better system and must be followed by India always. I feel that democracy is the only way the universal value of freedom can truly be practised in a practical format. So where's the catch then?
- Democracy is not responsible for our poverty and backwardness. The corruption and lethargy of the State apparatus is responsible for all this. We have to learn to differentiate between these two extremely different issues. If the State machinery is corrupt, inefficient and insensitive, that does not mean that democracy is responsible for it. It may mean the opposite - that despite democracy, the citizens are not taking these problems seriously enough to effect a large scale long-lasting change in the society.
- In fact, the Indian State has become a parasite - feeding off its own people, demotivating the honest & the enterprising. Ominous portents. Problem with large part of Indian media too - can't genuinely differentiate between the goodness of democracy (as a model) and the badness of our State's apparatus. They automatically equate the two - because we have so many poor, hence democracy is bad. How wrong a logic this is! I repeat my conviction - we are poor because our State does not perform efficiently, not because we are democratic.
- A final argument in favour of Indian democracy - it is a fantastic system of checks-and-balances, and generally is able to keep absolute power from falling into any one hand. And since absolute power corrupts absolutely, perhaps we are spared the tyranny arising from the same!
Inefficient babus, corrupt netas, slow office procedures, lack of vision in project design and implementation, amazingly slow judiciary... all these are eating into the vibrant democratic freedom that we have offered ourselves.
Let wisdom prevail. Let change come.