Public sector reforms and political discourse in India and China
The experience of public sector reforms and the discourses accompanying this process in India and China challenge some basic categories and beliefs that have dominated development thinking in the contemporary world. This chapter takes up some comparable as well as distinct examples from both countries to argue that the future course of reforms in general and public sector reforms in particular, is likely to be on new and creative lines rather than following the neoliberal script that has been advocated by the forces of globalization. The attempt to deride the role of the state in directing a country’s development process, equate the notion of state with bureaucratic, inefficient, authoritarian, and corrupt machinery and discredit public action in general has failed to carry conviction despite massive campaigns to that end by the votaries of globalization and liberalization. That is partly because of the debates and contestations over paths of development and consequences of policies raised by political parties and social movements in India and the policy debates within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as well as issues raised by protest movements and active social groups in China. What is remarkable is that the totality of the Indian and Chinese experiences encompassing both state policies as well as social dynamics contributes many fresh ideas on the critical issues in development theory overcoming many dichotomies reinforced by the neo-liberal discourse. It is important to locate this discussion not only in the 20-to 30-year perspective of India’s and China’s reforms, but also in the broader span of their post-independence history of 60 and more years as also the debates during the freedom struggle and the revolutionary movement about the vision of the future of their societies. At the same time we have to keep in view the global history of industrial revolution and the role of state, capital, and community in that process and the experiences during the crisis periods such as the 1929 Great Depression, the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the global economic crisis of 2007-2009 and subsequently. When put in a longer historical perspective the neo-liberal premises undermining the significance of state and public action do not get vindicated. At the same time, this discourse brings out the need for an inquiry into such questions as the social character of the state and the nature of the state apparatus. One had to investigate as to whether state power was exercised to benefit upper
classes, upper castes, and dominant ethnic groups or common people, whether it was a political system of centralized and authoritarian power or of decentralized and participatory decision-making structures, whether it was an agency of foreign capital or serving interests of the national republic and its constituent units and citizens. At a time when an information and communication explosion had engulfed the whole world and media played a crucial role in influencing the processes of legitimacy of institutions and leaders of society and state, the character of what is called “public action” needed to be probed. This is not to ignore the fact that the state is the aggregate power structure of society and reflected the interests of dominant sections. But the modern state is also an arena of struggle and people used the electoral process and social movements to pressurize the state to respond to their interests. Therefore, during the early decades of independence most post-colonial states were activist states directing social process and economic growth towards egalitarian ends. When these states faced crisis situations in the 1970s and 1980s the initiatives were launched from the West to discredit public action by attributing the causes of the crisis to the role of the state. In fact, the neo-liberal attack was meant to reappropriate the state apparatus mainly to serve the interest of capital while people’s movements were engaged in transforming the social and functional character of the state to serve the interest of the vast masses of the population (Mohanty 1998). Keeping this broad perspective in mind, we will first discuss the theoretical formulations made in the course of the reform process in India and China, then take up a few conceptual issues arising from these debates regarding public sector reforms and finally conclude by reflecting upon the possible developments in the near future.