Indian economists/thinkers new fascination with Deng Xioping..

Earlier, much of our economic thinking and benchmarking was based on Western leaders/policymakers. So, one would quote Reagan, Thatcher and so on and ask Indian leaders to act just like they did. The general advice was that all our economic policy and thinking should be as close to these guys who revamped and reshaped their economies. Now, as the western economies have collapsed and people are questioning the Thatcher/Reagan (and others) ideas, one is looking for some other benchmarks here in India.

The new (relatively new) benchmark is Deng Xioping. This is ironical as it is highly unlikely that Deng would have thought that he would get praise from people on economics matters, that too from India! But I have been reading articles by quite a few where comparisons have shifted from the Western leaders to Deng. The crucial question is Who will be India’s Deng? Is it our current PM? This is even more ironical given the mess China is in now and is paying a price for lopsided development. Yes, it achieved high growth for 30 years but there were costs associated with it. Those costs could be minimised (rather ignored) in China given the autocracy, but can we afford it in India? This is where bulk of the problem is for economists who only use the narrow lens of economics and not of social science as a whole.

Here is one such article:

In his book Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, Ezra Vogel of Harvard University concludes that no 20th century leader has done more than Deng to improve the lives of so many, or has had such a large and lasting influence on world history. After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 – while China was still undergoing the after-shocks of the Cultural Revolution – Deng Xiaoping became its leader in 1978. He remained at the helm for over 17 years as the “paramount leader” of China. When Deng passed away in 1997, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) had almost quadrupled from 216.8 billion renminbi in 1978 to 860.8 billion renminbi in 1996. China, with more than a billion people, stood radically transformed.

Famous for having said “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice,” Deng was an inveterate pragmatist. With little faith in ideological dogmas, he steered China towards neither Soviet-style communism, nor democracy, but socialist economics, politics and culture with Chinese characteristics. He dismantled the agricultural collectives and gave land to the peasants, actively encouraged private enterprise, including foreign ones, and opened up the economy to foreign trade.

Many seriously doubt the prospects for communism in China, after Deng’s reforms. Happily for Deng though, his “communism with Chinese characteristics” has been endorsed by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). According to the party’s “Resolution on Ideological Issues, 20th Congress,” adopted in April 2012 at Kozhikode, China is in a primary stage of socialism, and reforms are aimed at attaining conformity between “the levels of productive forces and the relations of production under socialism.”

Deng’s admirers abound all over the world. In India, there are many others, not just the CPI(M). The former prime minister, P V Narasimha Rao, famous for the reforms in 1991, was one of them. He was reportedly rather miffed when, in December 1988, prime minister Rajiv Gandhi went to Beijing and did not take Rao, his external affairs minister, along.

Jairam Ramesh in his book To the Brink and Back has described Narasimha Rao as India’s Deng Xiaoping. Prime Minister Rao, along with his finance minister, Manmohan Singh, undoubtedly will be remembered for the 1991 reforms. But, Rao’s tenure, and hence his contribution, as a star reformer in India was limited compared to Deng’s in China. Of indifferent health when he became prime minister, at the age of almost 70, he ruled for only five years, and faded away after demitting office.

Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram has compared Dr Singh of India with Deng Xiaoping of China. Deng ruled China continuously for over 17 years. He resigned from his official posts in 1992, but was de facto leader until his death in 1997. Manmohan Singh was out of power between 1996 and early 2004. For 2004-2014, when he was the prime minister, doubts have been raised not only about the extent of the reforms but also his “real” powers. Perhaps India still has not had its own Deng Xiaoping.

What about Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

It is fine to look at heroes but in no other country are things as biased as they are here. We just fail to acknowledge people who have contributed and those who are acknowledged are given Western (and now Chinese) monikers. Whereas you will rarely see an article by Chinese comparing Deng (and others) to some other benchmark. They are far more proud of their history and decide the benchmarks from their leaders…

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