Political Economy

Why India Won't Be Able to Compete With China in the Post-COVID-19 World

The RSS/BJP ideologues must unlearn their ‘cultural nationalism’ and re-learn ‘productive nationalism’ with a massive focus on the dignity of labour.

COVID-19 has created a cold war kind of situation between the United States  and China. India is siding with the US, and adding to the tension. As of now, America and China have competing economic and military power. The US is a democracy seeking to exercise global imperial control even though China and Russia keep it in check with their military and economic strength. By the time the coronavirus crisis shook the world, China was trying to catch up with the US on many fronts, particularly with the massive skilled labour power at its command. With its deft handling of the globalisation process, China out played the US in reaching out to global markets and engulfed even America’s home markets with its goods and commodities. China has practiced ‘labour power socialism’ which the former Soviet Union could not do.

China has become the most powerful market controller in Asia. In certain sectors, it has penetrated deep in to Euro-American markets by creating its own brand of consumerism in those countries. Perhaps Marx may think otherwise but China has made his dream of combining labour, skill and science and created a new world order which has made better human life possible.

The capitalist West started consuming more than it required, creating a natural imbalance. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has created a new crisis in its consumerism. Though its contours are still not clear, a post-corona world order is likely to emerge.

Despite their strong anti-China sentiment, successive Indian governments could not stop the expansion of Chinese market influence with its cheap goods. As democracy with a population of 1.3 billion consumers, India was compelled to set aside its fears about Chinese territorial expansion after the 1962 war. The country could not afford to keep China out of its markets as Chinese products helped low income groups improve their standard of living. China bazars are available in every Indian city and people, particularly those on low incomes, throng these to buy cheap goods.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1999-2004) and Narendra Modi from 2014 onwards may have treated communism-Maoism-China as Enemy Number One but dared not stop Chinese goods from flooding Indian markets. The reason is that Chinese labour knows how to produce goods that are not just cheap and durable but are well aligned with each country’s needs and tastes. This formula of Chinese production experts has taken over even the Euro-American markets. With a careful study of global society’s multi-cultural needs – some of the cheapest saris, Diwali firecrackers and god idols in India come from China – the Chinese have made inroads everywhere. Along with many affordable items of consumption,  China has now become the birth place of the coronavirus, which is uniting its enemies like the US, Japan, India and Australia. But can they stop Chinese goods going all over the world, including their own countries, in the post-corona world?

The cold war between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not resemble the cold war between the US and the erstwhile USSR in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The USSR had no household and kitchen market control over any nation of that time. The only market it excelled in was that for weapons. The Soviet Union never acquired labour skills of mass consumption productivity. In contrast, China has used ‘socialist’ organisational skills to harness the quantity and quality of its labour power – 1.4 billion hard working people, with a good agricultural base and skills. As a result, it has improved the life of people all over the world, particularly in Asian and African countries Affordable Chinese products have changed the lifestyle of vast masses.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters/D. Sagolj

BJP ideologues are now saying that in post-COVID times, the India of their Hindutva will take the place of China in global markets. But has India prepared its labour force to challenge the Chinese skilled labour force? Can India produce goods and commodities as cheap and durable as they do?

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh survived for 95 years with a cultural nationalism fuelled by its anti-Muslim agenda. The RSS-BJP never thought of improving the skills of India’s labour force as they come from the so-called lower castes. While Chinese Confucianism, Buddhism and Marxism believe in human equality and dignity of labour, the RSS’s ideology is rooted in Kautilya, Manu and Golwalkar’s thought and it never campaigned for human equality and dignity of labour. How can it challenge the Chinese labour force, which lives labour as life? Can the slogan of “Jai Sri Ram” challenge the Chinese slogan, “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a thousand schools of thought contend”? This slogan may never have been implemented in the political sphere but who can deny the phenomenal growth of China’s economy is the result of a thousand natural science and social science thoughts expanding and contending?

The RSS/BJP ideologues must unlearn their ‘cultural nationalism’ which thinks nothing of exploiting and humiliating labour and re-learn ‘productive nationalism’ with a massive focus on the dignity of labour. They must learn how to de-casteise the labour market.

China and India shared borders but they never shared cultures. They live in distinctly different cultures. China’s rural industry is capable of producing goods for all sorts of cultural and commercial markets. Where is the rural industry in India? While announcing his stimulus for post-corona economic activity, Narendra Modi talked about establishing cottage industries. But where is the skilled labour in rural India to produce goods and commodities for the global market’s tastes? Modi wants our local products to become global brands. How?

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What the BJP, like the Congress in the past, does not realise is that China’s  school education from 1970 onwards taught theory and practice as a combined curricula. What is BJP government’s education agenda? Mythology is taught as as modern science but taking students to the countryside to learn and apply their knowledge is not seen as part of the Indian ethos. The Chinese have no such hesitation, and have benefited as a result.

Challenging China means unlearning many things and re-learning many new things which are not seen as nationalist now. Conducting a cold war with China with an ideology of ‘Namaste Trump’ will not help India develop its rural industry. Trump is a businessman with an election at hand. If he gets re-elected, he is likely to share steak with Xi, not dal-roti with Modi.