Netaji vs Nehru: Has Democracy delivered in India what Dictatorship has in Asia?


As Netaji’s files have come out, and Nehru is now being seen to be what he was – a person who sabotaged India’s polity to establish his own dynasty rule.  How he and his government spied and followed Netaji and his family is now coming out.  Suddenly, Congress is afraid of the negative impact of all the truth and facts on the embellished image of Nehru, their main-stay and hero!  So, now the media people, who are basically Congress stooges, have started a campaign to ostensibly villify Netaji.  The “Bring Down Netaji, Save Nehru” campaign was kicked off by the Times of India article “Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose wanted ruthless dictatorship in India for 20 years”.  The writer tries his best to use half lies and conjectures married to some facts to paint a picture of Netaji as a Hitler.  Interestingly, he unleashes the gem from Netaji’s speech ironically in Singapore where Netaji asserted that India needed a dictatorship for 20 years to become a prosperous nation.

In a speech the same year in Singapore, Bose spoke about India needing a ruthless dictator for 20 years after liberation. Then Singapore daily, Sunday Express (now defunct), printed his speech where he said, “So long as there is a third party, ie the British, these dissensions will not end. These will go on growing. They will disappear only when an iron dictator rules over India for 20 years. For a few years at least, after the end of British rule in India, there must be a dictatorship…No other constitution can flourish in this country and it is so to India’s good that she shall be ruled by a dictator, to begin with …”

The India’s liberal left is all up in arms against Netaji in this Netaji vs Nehru battle.  Of course, democracy to them seems to be the god-ordained way.  And dictatorship a bad, devilish word.  But is it?

One wants to look at Asia’s experience with governance and journey transformation in countries which were rank poor as late as 1965 to societies which rich, prosperous and healthy.  People no more die of hunger.  Young no more roam around unemployed.  GDP and per capita wealth has leap-frogged to the heights of developed countries in just a matter of 20-30 years.

One thing was common in all these countries and their journey.  They were ALL ruled by dictators!  All!

The countries which made the journey from poverty to prosperity were dictator-ruled in Asia.  For people who are well fed and have lots of money and high jobs, the value of food on the table is not much.  They now yearn to speak and freedom to offend.  But for the 600 million Indians – many of them kids – who will go to sleep hungry without food, expression and social liberty has absolutely no value.  They need food.  This is a weakness that every Machiavellian politician has used (but not delivered on) for decades now!  Because all of these leaders loved the freedom to propagate corruption and use the country’s institutions with impunity that an uneducated democracy gave them!  These leaders aren’t the devils for our liberals… but Netaji is.  One guy who spoke the truth decades before Asia’s big three did exactly what he had prescribed!

One must introspect – what use is freedom to do everything if there is poverty and hunger?  Let that happen first – the prosperity!  And then lets talk of things that matter to those who are fat with feasting on the best food available in the world!

Let us check out the stories of the three Dictators and their transformation of the Big three Asian economies!

Matahir Mohammad: The Dictator who transformed Malaysia

Matahir Mohammad
Matahir Mohammad

Matahir Mohammad was Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister.  He was the longest serving Prime Minister of his country who ruled for 22 years from 1981 to 2003.

During Matahir Mohammad’s regime, the World Bank listed Malaysia as one of the top 8 Asian economies with the highest growth rates in the world.  During his rule, the nation’s economy was transformed from predominantly an agragrian economy to one based in manufacturing.  The GDP growth was in double digits and was marked by privatization, heavy industrialization and high Foreign Direct Investment.  By the end of his regime, the foreign reserves were at a very high level, inflation had become low and foreign debt was within manageable levels.

By just the 17th year of his regime, Malaysia had been 17th/18th largest importing exporting nation.

For turning his country, Malaysia, which was an economic backwater of Asia to one of the most developed economy and country of the world – Matahir Mohammad’s journey has not been without controversies and accusations of being a dictator.  Here is what he shared on his blog.

“So labels are essential in politics, especially those which run down an opponent. Whatever you do, the opponents will not cease using the labels,” he said.  “When I was prime minister, I was given numerous titles. ‘Mahazalim’, ‘Firaun’ and ‘dictator’ were among the titles invented by my political foes,” he added.  Mahathir had been accused of ruling with an iron fist as critics claimed that under his 22-year watch, the independence of key institutions such as the media and judiciary was shackled.
The doctor-turned-politician’s tenure was also marred by the Internal Security Act crackdown on opposition politicians and activists as well as allegations of widespread corruption.

Despite the invectives hurled at Matahir, he was able to steer his country to economic prosperity.  Education improved, business growth peaked and poverty reduced.

Malaysia has one of the highest standards of living in SE Asia, largely because of its expanding industrial sector, which propelled the country to an 8%–9% yearly growth rate from 1987 to 1997. Growth contracted during the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis, and the government was forced to cut spending and defer several large infrastructure projects. Unemployment and interest rates rose, and thousands of foreign workers, many of them from Indonesia, were forced to leave the country. The economy began recovering in 1999, and growth continued into the early 21st cent.

We may judge Matahir Mohammad the way we want, but did he deliver his country from poverty to well-being?  The answer to those living there and those who have been there at any time is a clear yes!

Park Chung-hee: South Korea’s Army Dictator who used the authoritarian Yushin Constitution to transform his country

Park Chung-hee
Park Chung-hee

Park Chung-hee was South Korea’s president who was an erstwhile military general.  He started leading South Korea in 1961 until his assassination in 1979.  Park declared martial law in 1972 and created the Yushin Constitution which was adopted in October 1972 which changed South Korea’s constitution into an extremely authoritarian document.

Meanwhile, with complete power in his hands, Park was able to bring unprecedented change in South Korea and transformed this, once poor country into one of the world’s most advanced.

What did Park do to transform South Korea?

Here is what Park did to change South Korea into a developed country:

Park moved quickly to integrate South Korea with international sources of funding. He normalized relations with Japan, to the chagrin of many South Koreans. The treaty opened the door for hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from Japan and the U.S. (they supported the deal), and created a Japanese market for cheap South Korean goods. Park also sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight alongside the Americans in Vietnam—for a price, of course—which in turn allowed South Korean contractors to take the lead in rebuilding the country after the war. Much of this money went into infrastructure. Earlier projects included industry-friendly projects like a highway to connect Seoul to the ports in Busan. Later projects raised the standard of living in rural areas, which had seen fewer of the benefits than the urban areas, through projects like the popular Saemaeul Undong, or New Village Movement.
“I remember taking a tour of [New Village Movement] in 1975 to see the steady transformation of the tradition-bound Korean countryside—village roads being paved, replacement of thatched roof with corrugated iron roofing, the kitchen innovation that brought stainless steel kitchen sinks to Koreanajummas to cook and wash standing, not squatted on the floor. To them, Park indeed was a savior, a revolutionary chasing poverty away,” wrote Shim Jae-hoon, a columnist in South Korea, in 2010.
Park’s government also transformed the South Korean economy into an export-oriented dynamo by heavily influencing the direction of some familiar companies: Hyundai, Samsung, Daewoo. To great success, Park staffed his government with technocrats, and rewarded only those companies that met high export quotas. His economic council incentivized the development of industries familiar as Korean wheelhouses: textiles, wig-making and footwear. It was free market capitalism in name only; an irony, given what was going on above the 38th Parallel. But South Korea’s economy started to boom.

It is obvious that Park’s rule was anything but liberatarian or involving free speech.  But what it achieved for the nation’s future was mind-bogglingly amazing!  A country which was no better than India in 1947 is now so far ahead of India, that it is hard to catch up.  Granted that a few companies have ruled the business environment in South Korea for most part – Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo – but they have become world beaters and started a cascading effect that has revolutionized the Korean economy as a whole!  Let us look at the numbers of the economy and how they changed.

The economic growth story of South Korea tells its own story which was based on the changes brought about by the heavy handed authoritarian rule of Park under-scored by the Yushin Constitution.

South Korea’s real gross domestic product expanded by an average of more than 8 percent per year, from US$2.7 billion in 1962[47] to US$230 billion in 1989,[48] breaking the trillion dollar mark in 2007. Nominal GDP per capita grew from $103.88 in 1962[49] to $5,438.24 in 1989,[50] reaching the $20,000 milestone in 2007. The manufacturing sector grew from 14.3 percent of the GNP in 1962 to 30.3 percent in 1987. Commodity trade volume rose from US$480 million in 1962 to a projected US$127.9 billion in 1990. The ratio of domestic savings to GNP grew from 3.3 percent in 1962 to 35.8 percent in 1989.

Of course, today those who bleed for liberties and human rights would keep dinging Park Chung-hee and painting him into a devil, but his contribution to making sure that poverty and hunger in his country was eliminated cannot be challenged!

Only those who have a full stomach and pockets full can have the luxury of criticizing people like Park.  Those whose lives changed such that they have 3 full meals versus none for their grand-parents, would not even think of making such a judgment.

Lee Kuan Yew: Singapore’s dictator who took his small island to prosperity

Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew

Lee Kuan Yew or LKY, was Singapore’s first Prime Minister who ruled from 1959 to 1990.  He also saw through Singapore’s independence from Malaysia in 1965.

Economist wrote this regarding Lee’s contribution to the economy of Singapore:

ONE of the world’s great economic success stories, Singapore owes much of its prosperity to a record of honest and pragmatic government, the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, who has died aged 91.

But Lee’s political style was as authoritarian – and as some Liberty crusaders would say “Draconian”!   Simply speaking, he brooked no opposition to his rule and government as well as its policies.

Mr Lee’s political views, however, were controversial. Decrying the decadence and welfarism which he thought had sapped the strength of countries such as Britain, he supported tough laws and punishments, making Singapore orderly, clean and disciplined. He was quick to use British-era legislation, including a draconian Internal Security Act, to quell anything that smacked of subversion. Defamation suits were used to tame the press and, on occasion, bankrupt his critics.

Despite his “draconian” ways, where he stamped out all dissent and used an iron fist, LKY was able to change Singapore from a rank poor country to a prosperous nation.

Upon independence from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore faced a small domestic market, and high levels of unemployment and poverty.[27] 70 percent of Singapore’s households lived in badly overcrowded conditions, and a third of its people squatted in slums on the city fringes. Unemployment averaged 14 percent, GDP per capita was US$516, and half of the population was illiterate.[29][30]

In response, the Singapore government established the Economic Development Board to spearhead an investment drive, and make Singapore an attractive destination for foreign investment.[30] FDI inflows increased greatly over the following decades, and by 2001 foreign companies accounted for 75% of manufactured output and 85% of manufactured exports.[27] Meanwhile, Singapore’s savings and investment rates rose among the highest levels in the world, while household consumption and wage shares of GDP fell among the lowest.[27][31][32][33]

As a result of this investment drive, Singapore’s capital stock increased 33 times by 1992, a tenfold increase in the capital-labor ratio.[34] Living standards steadily rose, with more families moving from a lower-income status to middle-income security with increased household incomes. During a National Day Rally speech in 1987, Lee Kuan-Yew claimed that (based on the home ownership criterion) 80% of Singaporeans could now be considered to be members of the middle-class. However, much unlike the economic policies of Greece and the rest of Europe, Singapore followed a policy of individualising the social safety net. This led to higher than average savings rate and a very sustainable economy on the long run. Without a burdensome welfare state or its likeliness, Singapore has developed a very self-reliant and skilled workforce well versed for a global economy.[35]

Singapore’s economic strategy produced real growth averaging 8.0% from 1960 to 1999. The economy picked up in 1999 after the regional financial crisis, with a growth rate of 5.4%, followed by 9.9% for 2000.

For those families who were poor and without means, which were aplenty at the time of Singapore’s independence just four decades back – LKY’s draconian laws and ways meant the difference between life and death.

Forbes Donald Kirk said of Park Chung-hee and Lee Kuan Yew in his article on Lee’s death.

They both were determined nationalists. They both came to power in dramatic, unexpected ways — Lee when Malaysia’s rulers in 1965 expelled this obstreperous Chinese partner from their federation, Park four years earlier by staging a largely bloodless coup against South Korea’s short-lived democratic government . The irony was that Malaysia, including Singapore, had been born in a burst of optimism after the end of British rule. Democratically elected leaders had taken over in Seoul from the long-ruling Syngman Rhee in the student revolution of April  1960 less than seven years after  the end of the Korean War.

Would Dictatorship in the first 20 years have been better for India?

Netaji used Hitler and the Japanese for his own ends of India’s independence.  A mission in which he did succeed finally, albeit not the way he would have wanted it to happen.  But given his pragmatism and political foresight, Netaji was supremely talented in how he could foresee and impact the best minds of the world.

In today’s world, for those whose hearts beat for hollow liberal values which do not have anything to do with putting food on the table of a poor person, democracy seems to be the sine-qua-non for “enlightened governance”.  But such a governance does not exist anywhere.  Even in the US, the harbinger of democracy – the human right abuses of the Japanese during the WWII and the African Americans, not to talk of Native Indians are legendary now.  All within the ambit of democratic norms and institutions.  Britain ruled and massacred in its numerous colonies well into the 1960s often using its democracy!

On the other hand, leaders like LKY, Park Chung-hee and Matahir Mohammad have shown in three most prosperous countries of Asia that dictator-ship, where the rights and liberties were quashed and press / media controlled, prosperity was unleashed!  From societies that were rank poor to societies that are now amongst the most prosperous and healthy in the world, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea have come a long way.  And, democracy wasn’t the way.

featured Image Source: Flickr

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