Choice before us: Fish or nets to fish
I always admired Chinese pragmatism and the fine blend of India’s
idealistic-realism. No nonsense, the Chinese take a way forward based on
what’s good for the many and what can work best. Indians, on the other
hand give us a blend of spiritual idealism and democratic means of
dealing with ground realities; a masala which can not be concocted by
any other. All may not seem to be well in both systems, especially when
one attempts to judge them using dominantly held western measure-sticks
we have acquired recently. Many flaws may be seen and critiques looking
at bits of it can without doubt, thrive.
* Chinese take way forward
on what can work best
*Indians give blend of
spiritual idealism and democratic means
* Strong system of
* Our own brand of policy
agenda for development
* Developing infrastructure
At the micro level there is systemic chaos of a sort. Yet, at the
macro level it all falls into place. We got to give it to them; both
nations with over a billion people in each, once thought to be beyond
redemption in breaking loose from their poverty traps, have made it so
good within a short time-span of a few decades. Most other nations look
at them today with embarrassing envy.
The days when they were dazed with opium habits or Karmic outlooks
are now long gone. The Confucian ethic is what drives China, while an
awkward blend of resonance of the Vedas and Upanishads with a mix of
Keynesianism and socialism, drives India.
I remember how John Naisbitt, the bestseller author of ‘Megatrends’
fame was asked in the mid-1990’s at a forum in Singapore, how he would
describe the economic miracle in Asia. The ‘Tiger’ economies as they
were called. He said “I can do it in one word; paused and affirmatively
said ‘Chinese’ “. He further explained that almost all the East and
Southeast Asian economies i.e. Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore even
Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines were driven by those of Chinese
origin, rooted in the same Confucian ethic.
We now have the other social and economic mega-force of India. In
areas of innovative and creative pursuits, Indians are shining within
socio-economic webs all around the world, where they have integrated.
With a sense of deep patriotism and a nostalgic pull, most also
contribute their skills and knowledge to make what today is, modern
Our Indian neighbours have successfully retained and blended aspects
of their colonial past, giving a new dynamism to democratic institutions
with an accompanying tolerance also of deep-rooted nationalistic ideals.
The Indian civil service and other bureaucratic institutions ensure
that policies and programs for development are continued unabated even
when changes occur in the political domain. Although entirely different
in form, it provides the same continuity through the policy and program
implementation mechanism of the one-party based structure of governance
Within the past three decades, both countries adopted
non-confrontational pragmatic policies, in terms of their relations with
each other and focussed on better trade and development of
infrastructure needed for their economies to take off. There was little
or no fear of dominance by any and Sino-Indian relations entered a new
era of pragmatic rationalism.
Lessons to learn
Tomorrow, we in Sri Lanka will begin the process of electing and
instituting a new team to work with our Head of State as the country’s
new legislature. The hope is that there will be a new dynamism setting
in, with a weeding away of the ‘bad and ugly’ of the past.
construction work in Uva Province. File photo
Why I chose to make what is an extremely generic overview of
developments in China and India, at this critical juncture in our
political process, is because I believe there are key lessons we can
learn from them. What they have done for themselves with bold but
pragmatic strategies, to develop their economies at the centre and in
the regions for the well-being of their people, have indeed been
Unity of purpose
Lesson number one would be having a stable and strong system of
governance and civil administration that will ensure accountability at
each level of its operation. Such accountability must also be to ensure
continuity of policy and strategy implementation, without deviation
until its next review. Sri Lankan voters have already, overwhelmingly
mandated the ‘Mahinda Chintanya; Way forward policy and strategic focus’
as our own brand of policy agenda for development.
If like we saw during the past regime; there is to be a tug-a-war
between the executive and the legislature (there was confrontation then
between the executive and the judiciary as well), that would not auger
well for post-conflict Sri Lanka to take on a pragmatic and realistic
nation building thrust.
Lesson number two is the focus made on developing infrastructure. The
energy grids, info-communication networks, ports, airports, road
networks, railways, water-based transport, health facilities,
educational and research facilities are among them. Both China and India
were until two decades ago visibly backward with their infrastructural
facilitation. It was only after that was got right, that a strong
take-off for both countries was possible.
A better future
What is at stake this time around for us in Sri Lanka is the promise
of a change at the very core of governance. The governing alliance is
seeking to change the Constitution to enable a system based on a
bottom-up model of representation that is accountable to the electorate.
Development of infrastructure, integration of the races and setting
in place a society based on the principles of just treatment of all,
meritocracy and strict discipline is promised and is to be taken on, as
being on par in effort, with the war waged on terrorism.
The choice before all Sri Lankans hoping for a future better than
before, will be to decide if we must take the offers of ‘fish’ and focus
on just our short-term needs or take on the more profound option of
‘going for the nets’ for us to be able to catch that ‘fish’ and pave the
way, to take off to a brighter future.