Thursday, January 3, 2013

Take a leaf out of the mighty dragon’s book

My article on the French Revolution and China appeared today in The Pioneer.

The new rulers of China have been quick and unambiguous in acknowledging the spread of corruption in Government. In India, the UPA regime remains in denial mode even after being hit by many huge scams

Everyone knows that in terms of infrastructure development, China is today far in advance compared to India. Most observers will say that it is due to the authoritarian nature of the regime in Beijing: Decisions are taken and implemented, and that is it. India has the excuse of being the ‘largest democracy in the world’, with its pluses, but also with its impediments and negative collaterals.
There is another field in which Beijing is more serious than Delhi: It is corruption awareness. I am not talking about combating the plague, but simply being aware of it and not brushing it under the carpet, as it is done in India where the Government does not even acknowledge that thousands of rich Indian have accounts in Switzerland and other tax paradises.
Not many in India may have heard of Wang Qishan, one of China’s seven new bosses. The official ‘profile’ of this member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo says: “He can do it”. Xinhua website commented, “Wang Qishan took up a challenging new mission last month to lead China’s top discipline watchdog [known as the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection], amid rising calls for crackdown on corruption”. It added: “Simply more than a month into his new role, Wang has demonstrated the same style that previously won his fame as a troubleshooter in the economic field: Tough, resolute and confident in front of difficulties.”
Can you imagine a senior Cabinet Minister of India, responsible for tackling corruption at the highest level of the Indian State? Unfortunately for India, the senior politicians are mostly in denial mode: There is no 2G Spectrum scam, no Coalgate affair, etc. It is only an invention of the journalists (or the CAG), they say!
At the end of November, soon after his election, Mr Wang told a symposium: “Ethics of the Party determines its survival or demise... In the fight against corruption, we must convince the public that we are making more and more concrete efforts and delivering more and more powerful blows.” Is it because the disease in a terminal stage than China takes more seriously this critical issue?
One of the blows suggested by Mr Wang is to recommend the 19th-century classic on the French revolution (The Old Regime and the Revolution) written by the French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville.
An article on the website Global Voices says that this has attracted thousands of comments on the Chinese blogosphere. Mr Wang seems to believe that China could witness a ‘French’ Revolution, if it does not manage to rein corruption. Seventy well-known Chinese academics and lawyers recently signed a proposal urging the new leadership to start political reforms, including the separation of the Party from the State.
Professor Zhang Qianfan of Peking University Law School prepared the ‘proposal’ calling on the Party to manage the State according to its Constitution, protect freedom of speech, encourage private enterprise, foster judicial independence, and allow the people to elect their own representatives. It asked Beijing to take head-on issues such as social injustice, corruption, and the abuse of Government authority; otherwise, it concludes, “China runs the risk of revolution or chaos if it does not change.” Is the possibility of a Revolution à la French looming over China’s ancient Communist regime?
By recommending Tocqu- eville’s book, Mr Wang probably wanted to highlight the dark sides of the French Revolution, which nonetheless helped Europe to come out of the ‘regime of privileges’.
I wonder if Mr Wang read this speech of Danton, the great French revolutionary: “We ended the monopoly of birth and wealth in all important offices of State, in our churches, in our Armed Forces, in all parts of this beautiful country, France. We declared that the most humble man in this country is equal to the greatest. The freedom that we have gained for ourselves, we have offered it to all the slaves in the world”. In the case of China, the tyranny of privileges is born with the Party. Was not the end the monopoly of birth and wealth the first objective of the Chinese Revolution in 1949?
This has abysmally failed; it is certain that the leaders are today aware of this failure. Are Indian politicians ready to acknowledge that they failed since Independence?
In China, the question remains: Will Xi Jinping and his colleagues manage to return to the basics, and offer a ‘peaceful’ revolution to the people? The problem is that they themselves have their roots in the system which has not succeeded.
The reaction of the Chinese bloggers is interesting. They quote Tocqueville: “Great revolutions that have happened historically, such as violent revolutions, did not occur during a time of poverty. They occurred when economic situations brought polarisation to society. This is because at times like these, conflict between social classes is incited. It is easy for those in the bottom classes of the society to turn the flames of their anger into flames of war.” Many scholars believe that the conditions in China are not different from the situation in France before the 1789 Revolution.
One netizen wrote: “Tocqueville’s description of the social conflict in France before the revolution and its development is a lot similar to today’s China. If they remove the word ‘France’, it’s like a high resolution picture of Chinese society. Due to the improvement of material life and increase in wealth, the amount of ignorance, arrogance, greediness, dissolution, shamelessness and depravity compared to the old days before the revolution in France is simply greater.” But another microblog wisely advised: “It’s better to watch what they actually do than to listen to what they say and try to guess what it means.”
In a recent report about the Chinese contemporary society, website Chinascope argues that the people have lost confidence in the Government. It quotes Xun Zi (313 BC-238 BC), the famous philosopher: “The Emperor is the boat and the people are the water. Water can carry the boat, but also capsize the boat.”
The report concludes: “If the Chinese people continue to distrust their Government and actions against the Government intensify, it may be inevitable for the Party-boat to capsize.”
During his first speech as CCP General Secretary,  Mr Xi quoted an ancient Chinese proverb which stated, “Things must have gone rotten before insects can grow”. He asked his partymen to stay clean and self-disciplined.
Former Peking University professor Zhang Weiying has an interesting theory on the subject. He told a public forum in China that corruption poses a serious threat to the Communist Party and not the nation. Mr Zhang admitted that corruption in the Chinese Communist Party has been worsening; he even said that few officials would be found free of corrupt behavior if they were all put under investigation.
The question seems to be, will China or the Party alone capsize, if corruption is not reined. The year 2013 should bring us some elements of answer. China’s present leaders are not followers of Mao any more. The Great Helmsman had written: “Revolution is not a tea party. It is not like writing an essay, painting or embroidering flowers; revolution is an act of violence, it is the violent overthrow of one class by another.”
The new Emperors would prefer a gentler method. Will they succeed? India may soon face the same predicament, if burning issues are not acknowledged and acted upon in a timely manner. One solution is to have a ‘non-partisan’ Cabinet Minister to tackle the issue of corruption.
Is the Union Government interested?

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