To be an Indian in a Chinese city is to find familiar not only the vast crowds, the vivid street life, the open-fronted shops and food stalls, but also the malls with their luxury brand-names, the shiny new Mercedes and BMWs marooned in the intransigent traffic, the billboards for reality TV shows, the websites mixing sexual exhibitionism with jingoism.
It is hard not to wonder about the political outlook of the newly affluent Chinese. Their inability to articulate it through elections does not make any less urgent the question of what role they are likely to play within China as well as in the wider world. For, given the chance to vote, Indians have failed to prove the thesis that free markets and regular elections lead to an enlightened and harmonious society. India’s new middle class tends to be conservative, if not reactionary, consistently and overwhelmingly electing Hindu nationalists as their representatives, despite the latter’s repeated assaults on Muslims and their equally murderous indifference to the rural poor – the hundreds of millions who are trapped in a cycle of poverty and debt, and increasingly vulnerable to militant Communist movements that draw their inspiration from Mao.
In China, too, it could seem that the loss of the old sense of national purpose has resulted in a fragmented and divided society, many of whose most empowered members seek little more from politics than the protection of their own interests. [Full text]
– Read also a recent report by Mishra on China’s New Left for the New York Times.