New Delhi, Nov. 18 -- The debate was intense, the verdict mixed, but the message was clear.
Democracy and pluralism - often blamed for slow decision-making and still more inefficient implementation - gave India its big edge over authoritarian China, but New Delhi would need to take the right steps to deal with its problems.
And there are many. So, when Prof Stephen Chan began to list them - poor infrastructure, universities that produced poor quality graduates, primitive internet and mobile connectivity worse than in Africa and corruption - the moderator of the debate at the HT Leadership Summit, Edward Lucas, international editor of The Economist, wondered which side he was on.
"These problems are worse in China," said the former dean at London University's School's Oriental and African Studies, who was speaking for the motion: 'The future belongs to India, not China'.
The key, he added, lies in who overcomes their problems better.
Prof Deepak Lal of the University of California - who kicked off the debate in India's favour - had made a similar point, resting his hopes on India staying on the reforms track to push second generation economic reforms, particularly the labour market reforms.
He said China had done well in gross domestic product (GDP) terms but still remained a very poor country due to imbalanced growth and the benefits refusing to reach its version of the aam aadmi. Besides this, Lal raised questions on the survival of the Communist Party of China since the internal elite had also started questioning the legitimacy of the authoritarian regime.
Prof Rana Mitter at the University of Oxford wasn't as sure, asking those putting their money on India to form their opinion on basis of facts and not sentiment. Addressing a gathering of business leaders, diplomats, intellectuals and defence officers including army chief Gen Bikram Singh, Mitter recalled that the last Bengali to stand for east Asia - Subhash Chandra Bose - hadn't been very successful.
From per capita GDP, huge spending on education and defence to China's geography, Prof Mitter insisted that Beijing was way ahead of India in every parameter and was quickly overcoming other areas where it lagged behind such as diplomacy and soft power. For instance, if its investments in Zambia had become an election issue, fact remained that the new President spoke to the Chinese ambassador soon after his appointment.
Jonathan Fenby, the author of six critically acclaimed books and editor of The South China Morning Post, agreed. He recognised China's political problems but was quick to point that its political-economic nexus had been successful. For one, he pointed how the new Zambia president reached out to Beijing to seek more investments.
Many other countries - right from those in the Latin American region to Australia - were worried about alienating China, not India, he added.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.