Xi's Zero-IQ Authoritarian Covid Policy Contrasts With Modi's Competent Democratic Response

by R Jagannathan - Nov 28, 2022 11:26 AM +05:30 IST
Xi's Zero-IQ Authoritarian Covid Policy Contrasts With Modi's Competent Democratic Response Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Swarajyamag)
  • Xi’s China is incapable of course-corrections without a coup or drastic crackdowns.

The spread of protests against Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid policy — a draconian measure that involves repeatedly shutting down cities and areas if even a few Covid cases surface — is a useful backdrop against which to evaluate India’s own successful fight against this pandemic. Not to speak of dealing with other issues by the Narendra Modi government.

Authoritarian China is not used to protests of the scale and size we have begun seeing over Xi’s Covid lockdowns since Tiananmen Square in 1989, but it is likely to be another turning point for the country.

In 1989, despite the crackdown by Deng Xiaoping, the protests did not spread as Deng duly delivered on the prosperity he promised to a poor nation in due course. This time, Xi’s crackdown is doing the exact opposite: it is destroying its own people’s livelihoods at a time when China’s growth is slowing down.

Violent protests erupted at Apple’s main iPhone factory in Zhengzhou a few days ago over the management’s delay in payments of promised wages, but anti-lockdown protests have happened in Beijing, Wuhan (where the virus originated), Shanghai, Chengdu and even in tightly policed Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang province.

In contrast, India has even abandoned the masking mandate in crowded places.

However, pro-democracy people both inside China and outside should not get their hopes up. The widespread discontent over Xi’s zero-Covid policy may not mean any loosening of the gag on people’s voices and freedom to move around.

China is a one-party state, and the party does not intend giving up its grip on power anytime soon. The best outcome one can hope for is an internal coup against Xi, and a gradual easing of Covid control norms by someone who is not committed to Xi’s zero-IQ policy on Covid containment.

Consider also how China brutally put down the Hongkong protests for greater freedom last year. Clearly, the preferred Chinese method when confronted with agitating people is to put them down with an iron hand (read here, here, here). Consider also how Iran is handling the anti-hijab defiance by women, resulting in more than 300 deaths so far.

One should again contrast this with how democratic India handled not only a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but also the vastly more disruptive anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and anti-farm reform agitations.

In both the latter cases, the Modi government did not initially seem to cover itself with glory by not acting against the protesters, but in allowing them to run out of steam it showed that a democracy can handle an undemocratic protest without violence.

Of course, in the case of the farm laws, the government backtracked, but once again one cannot fully blame it for pusillanimity. The legislative retreat helped it avoid having to shoot at some of the protesters. It would have validated bogus anti-India sentiments in the media and politicians abroad.

It was probably this retreat that allowed it to prepare the ground to move more decisively against radical Islamist forces like the Popular Front of India (PFI) and allied organisations, which were banned in October.

Contrast this with what Justin Trudeau of Canada, who supported the Indian farm protests, did when truckers protested against his own Covid policies. He invoked emergency regulations and ended the protests.

Apparently, disrupting the economic lives of the general public in India is fine by Trudeau, but not in his own backyard.

On Covid, the less said the better. Despite having a first world health infrastructure, the US has reported more than twice the number of deaths in India. Even assuming Indian deaths are under-reported by a factor of five (ie, we had 2.5 million deaths and not just 5.3 lakh), adjusted for population, we are still well below the US death rate.

Currently, India has 6,348 active Covid cases (as on 28 November), while China is still reporting many times that number in terms of daily infections even today, despite its draconian lockdowns. But it is India’s performance against Covid that gets the blame.

The real lesson to learn, despite such adverse narrative building against us in the West, is this: of course, we must begin telling our own story in our way more aggressively to the West, but we must also acknowledge that our democracy has worked for us in two ways.

First, by electing a government that can act, we have enabled it to tackle the pandemic effectively. We did this first by ramping up testing capabilities in 2020 and the vaccination programme in 2021. We now have administered close to 2.2 billion vaccinations.

Second, our vociferous democracy has allowed the government to course correct when things appear to go wrong. For example, when migrants started walking back to their villages after Covid lockdowns ended their ability to earn a living in urban areas, after initial dilly-dallying, the government ensured that they all got home in public transport.

In 2021, when the Delta wave hit us in the solar plexus, the opposition din — not that it had any better solutions to offer — made the government course-correct its vaccine policy, fast-forwarding their development and deployment by the end of the year. This is why Omicron saw high infections, but far fewer fatalities. It is probably why our active numbers are low by any standard.

This does not mean our Covid challenges are behind us. No one can say that for sure. But the growing competence of the Indian state and our democracy ensures that we will get it right the next time too, even if we make mistakes initially.

Xi’s China, on the other hand, is incapable of course-corrections without a coup or drastic crackdowns.

Chinese authoritarianism is zero on IQ; Indian democracy is higher on IQ and EQ (emotional quotient). We are incapable of stupidity in the face of evidence.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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