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Democracy has failed on both sides of border

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    Democracy has failed on both sides of border

    Don't Keep Up With the Joneses
    Idle comparisons help neither side
    November 4, 1999
    My previous column, about Pakistan's flawed experiments with democracy, touched a raw nerve in some readers. In angry letters, they argue that Pakistan's democratic neighbor and hated enemy has fared no better. "Why the misconception that India's democracy is a success?" asks reader Shahid Newad. He goes on to argue that since India's poor are no better off than Pakistan's, democracy has failed on both sides of the border.

    This the classic subcontinental response to criticism: hey, the other lot is in as much of a mess as we are. Indians indulge in this childishness as much as Pakistanis. I suppose it's natural for people to compare themselves to their neighbors. But "schadenfreude" ("Enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others," according to Webster's) cannot be a basis of national policy. A poor country should aspire to be rich, not just better off than another poor country. Pakistan ought to be measuring itself by much higher standards than India's--and vice versa.

    But for those Pakistanis who limit themselves to peering over the fence, there's plenty to learn from their neighbor. India's democracy imposes an accountability on its leaders that Pakistan's have never known. Even the most corrupt Indian politician is obliged to give his voters some reason to reelect him. This compulsion has created an economy that, although deeply flawed, actually works. For most of its existence, Pakistan has been ruled by generals, who, not needing to be reelected, never bothered to create a credible economic system.

    Now I wouldn't wish India's politicians or its economic model on any other nation. But, measured by most accepted indicators, India has fared much better than Pakistan since their partition in 1947. For me, the most telling difference lies in the size of the middle class in each country. Fifty-two years ago, both had broadly the same social structure--a tiny Úlite sitting on top of mass poverty. Today, India's middle class makes up (depending on which measure you choose) anywhere between 15% and 25% of its billion people. That's 150 million to 250 million Indians, or more than Pakistan's entire population. In contrast, Pakistani economists say that between 3.5% and 8% of their people can be classified as middle class.

    Sure, India's democracy doesn't serve all Indians equally. But it has benefited more people than any military dictatorship anywhere in the world.