AN OFT-REPEATED IDIOM about the “rising” Asian giants, China and India, is that the Chinese tend to grow because of their government, whereas the Indians grow despite theirs. Observers of China are taken aback by how swiftly 1.3 million people can be relocated to make way for the biggest dam in the world, or the speed with which the world’s largest bullet train network was built. Moreover, despite its lack of democratic accountability the Chinese government has managed to eradicate malnutrition, achieve universal literacy, and drastically improve urban infrastructure.
India, in comparison, stands out for its government’s incompetence, whether in the construction of rail tracks and flyovers, or in running schools and hospitals. Any monumental infrastructure project is likely to be stalled or delayed because of an onslaught of litigation—the very tool to make the government more accountable—from the stakeholders involved. Bureaucratic corruption and ineptitude ensures that money meant for food and fuel subsidies often does not reach its intended recipients. In stark contrast to China, the Indian government’s failure to readily deliver on basic promises of healthcare, nutrition and education is reflected in the country’s social indices. Malnutrition afflicts half of India’s children, and it remains the only BRIC nation to not have achieved near-universal literacy.
In his two voluminous dissections of the origins and trajectory of political order—The Origins of Political Order, published in 2011, and Political Order and Political Decay, published in 2014—the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama addresses such conundrums of governance and development. Why is it that the Chinese government, despite the absence of democratic institutions, is able to deliver better public services to its people than the Indian one? Why is Indian politics often an expression of the power and dominance of a particular community rather than a civic-minded pursuit of the good for all citizens? What would it take to have professional and efficient public services here?