Some Indians believe that India’s primary advantage over the economically and militarily more successful China is its robust democracy, where people are free to speak their minds.
Others, like those in charge of India’s public broadcasting agency, Prasar Bharati, seem to worry that India has not emulated the more authoritarian tendencies of China enough.
What else could explain the body’s recent ridiculous complaint that the Press Trust of India, a news agency, had carried a report that “is not in national interest” and “undermining territorial integrity”?
PTI had conducted an interview of Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong, who blamed India entirely for the current tensions on the disputed border between the two countries. This led to the first deaths on that front in more than 40 years.
News reports have made it clear that Chinese troops have expanded into territory that Indian troops traditionally patrolled, although these lines were muddied by none other than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who insisted that there had been no intrusion – only for a later official clarification to spend two pages attempting to explain one sentence uttered by Modi.
Sun Weidong’s attempt to blame India for the violence is not surprising. The Chinese government has adopted a shrill rhetorical tone all along, attempting to depict itself as the victim in every action it takes, including clearly offensive military movements.
The difference between India and China, where the communist party exercises strict control on information that is shared, is that India need not feel threatened by this Chinese rhetoric. Indeed, airing these statements exposes the duplicitous nature of Chinese government, when juxtaposed against reports of the Chinese army drawing huge maps and symbols on sections of disputed territory that were once patrolled by Indian soldiers.
Unfortunately, Prasar Bharati – which is supposed to be autonomous but is ultimately run by officials appointed by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government – seems to take the view that any information it doesn’t approve of “is not in national interest.” The BJP too seems to have taken this view, with leaders complaining about Indian news organisations that have had the temerity to tell citizens what is actually happening on the disputed border.
For much of Modi’s tenure, the BJP – which in 2014 sent a team to visit the Communist Party of China’s famous “Party School” – has sought to emulate the Chinese approach to information: control it tightly, label dissent as anti-national and conflate party interest with the nation’s interest.
Fortunately, for many Indians, these views are not yet mainstream, even though the BJP’s control over much of the media and its relentless campaign to jail anyone who disagrees with it have gone some way towards changing this.
As the country squares up against the Chinese, Indian leaders find themselves touting the strength of the democratic approach versus the authoritarian tendencies across the border.
Yet it is worth spelling out: instead of investing and embracing the openness and right to criticism that make India different, the BJP-run Central government and various organs of the state have made a concerted effort to copy the Chinese information model. This is actually detrimental to national interest.