These days, in India as well as in other countries, there is a comparison going on about China v/s India. I came across this nice article comparing the responses of India and China to Earthquakes. Makes interesting reading. The last sentence of the Author sums it up all:

Hopefully, at some point we will realise that democracy is not just about elections. It has something to do with the state delivering to the electorate as well.

An article written by Dipankar Gupta in Times of India, Hyderabad Edition on 31 May 2008:

Delivering To The People

China’s response to quake puts India to shame

Dipankar Gupta

When Lisbon shook in 1755, Voltaire asked if God was at all just. Why did he not instead shift the earth under London and Paris which were infinitely more sinful? When the earthquake hit Sichuan earlier this month, many Chinese too wondered if this was a divine intervention. Had they done something terribly wrong that such devastation should visit them? As the death toll began to mount, this sentiment became increasingly palpable all over China.

But the way the administration responded, it displaced puzzled grief with positive energy. Indeed, from the highest party level downwards, the concern for the affected people was clearly evident. To claim that this has anything to do with communism would be a red lie. There is nothing socialist about China today. From farmland to plasma TVs, private ownership thrives in that country. Yet, within an hour and a half of the earthquake, Premier Wen Jiabao was at the site. He stayed for days on the broken ground directing relief teams from the front. This level of empathy would put many democratic countries to shame.

Where was George Bush when Hurricane Katrina whipped New Orleans? When he eventually came it was a hurried wham-bam affair. He was in and out in 24 hours and off to Palm Beach. Then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a full five days before he visited Bhuj after an earthquake struck it in 2001. When Vajpayee, at long last, reached Bhuj, the security was so tight that it blocked relief supplies by air and by road.

Within five days of the Sichuan quake, Chinese relief teams had reached all the 3,669 affected villages of the region. In Bhuj, even after a full year had passed, several villages were untouched by rehabilitation efforts. They had neither seen the front nor the back of a relief worker. This prompted affected people, such as those around Khavda and Maliya, to pick up the pieces themselves. No wonder only a tenth of urban dwellings destroyed by the quake have been restored so far. The rest continue to cantilever feeble, uncertain roofs.

In China, premier Wen has vowed that new cities will be built where the old ones were destroyed. In a moving and emotionally charged statement he said that “building a new town is the best consolation for dead relatives”. To keep this promise the Chinese people have reportedly raised over $16 billion already. This does not include foreign donations which, when they come in, will be small change in comparison.

Our democratic credentials notwithstanding, Bhuj victims received less than $20 million from the West. America parted with only $5 million, Britain a little less, and many other European countries donated only in the thousands. Yet we felt beholden to them simply because our state was wanting in every department. BBC estimated that the total amount dedicated for earthquake relief in Bhuj, from all quarters, was about $1 billion. This compares poorly with $16 billion already raised in China, and that too from its own people.

Already 23 Chinese relief workers have lost their lives for their courage and commitment in helping trapped victims out of precarious structures. In contrast, relief efforts in Bhuj waited largely on external help and NGO support. Here too we bungled. Medecins Sans Frontieres was kept waiting for days to get clearance to come in. Doctors flew in from different parts of India, but most of them left before their patients could say “Aaah”.

Sensing administrative inefficiency and corruption, Gujarat’s then chief minister, Keshavbhai Patel, ordered that all relief funds be channelled through NGOs. That many of these organisations worked with a communal slant in their so-called “adopted villages” did not stop the flow of money that went to them. Scores of publicity seeking volunteers took photos of themselves doing charity work while checking their profiles in the mirror for political correctness.

It is true heads will roll once the dust and rubble settle in and around Sichuan. Builders who had done a shoddy job with substandard material will be put on trial. One can expect the numbers of executed people to rise above the current level of about 2,000 annually. The fact of execution may not sit well with many of us, but the point is that somebody is being held responsible and somebody is being punished.

Nothing of the kind happened after the Bhuj earthquake. In that case too it was equally clear that the death count would have been much lower but for corrupt builders. Surprisingly, just six weeks before disaster struck Bhuj, the BJP-led government regularised illegal construction in six municipalities of that region. This obviously delighted the construction mafia but they were not ones inside the homes that crumbled.

This then is the rehabilitation balance sheet between “democratic” India and “authoritarian” China. Does this have something to say about how democracy is understood and practised in our country? Indeed we have a number of political parties, talking shops, and intellectuals for hire and sale. But what good has all this done for the common people. SEZs are built at will, the contractor-builder-politician nexus thrives, food shortages continue, poverty levels remain stubborn, and yet we are a democratic country.

Hopefully, at some point we will realise that democracy is not just about elections. It has something to do with the state delivering to the electorate as well.

The writer is professor of sociology, JNU.

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