(This is the second and concluding part of an article under the same headline)
Can any leader in India, no matter how popular or great, make himself a ruler for life, as Xi Jinping has done? Even Mrs Gandhi, after imposing the emergency, and centralising all authority and power in her hands, could not continue her hold for over 19 months. During the emergency, she had jailed many of her opponents but had to release them once normal rule was restored. Just compare this with the episode of Sun Zhengcai in China.
Sun, the former Communist Party secretary for the city of Chongqing, also held one of the 25 most powerful positions in China as a member of the Politburo. Being in his early fifties, it was thought Sun may be a potential successor to Xi, because many of his colleagues would be too old to take over in 2022. Though a friend, Xi thought of him as a rival, and finished not only his political career, but also personal freedom. He started the anti-corruption crackdown last year, which focused on attacking bribery and misuse of public funds.
But (strangely, or not so strangely), its focus was on Xi's rivals. It cleaned up all of his political opponents. Sun was the most senior leader to be targeted; he was suddenly arrested last year. He was accused of graft, leaking secrets, bribery and abusing his power, as well as having had his "faith and belief [in communism] shaken." He was expelled from the Communist Party and the position was given to Chen Miner, a trusted confidant and protégé of Xi.
Last week, he was found guilty by a court of taking $26.7 million in bribes and was given a life sentence and all his personal property and "illegal gains" are to be confiscated. Had anyone In India tried to bring in the kind of change in systems that the Chinese president has done, it would have been nipped in the very bud. And no one can put a former colleague in jail so easily. As regards the charges, of corruption, when all powers are vested in a single person, anything can happen.
And now comes the latest episode of censorship. The ruling Communist Party changed the Chinese Constitution this week, removing term limits and effectively giving Xi the ability to stay in power for the foreseeable future. This move has been largely unpopular, with many drawing parallels to the rule of Mao Zedong.
In fact, after Mao’s death in 1976, following a 27-year rule limit had initially been implemented precisely to avoid the cult of personality leadership now again, in order to stifle possible dissent following the announcement, Chinese censors upped the ante even remotely keeping an even more watchful eye on anything online that could be deemed subversive. Among the ‘subversive’ content was the English letter ‘N,’ which was apparently briefly censored. The New York Times explains that it was intended to “preempt social scientists from expressing dissent mathematically: N>2, with ‘N’ being the number of Mr Xi’s terms in office.”
Can you imagine such happenings in India? In fact, it is because of the system prevalent in India that Maoist parties which are fighting for the Chinese kind of regime in India have been able to survive and exist. Had it been in China, and had they been demanding an alternative kind of political system, their voices would have been throttled even before they could be heard!
At the time the Indian Constitution was being finalised, already the Russian model of governance was available for learning lessons from. Still our Constitution framers persisted with the present system, believing it to be the best. They put the democratic form of governance on a pedestal, trusted in it, and built in many checks and balances into it which were informed by that faith. They also ensured that no wing of the state would dominate another. In addition, they introduced provisions that put the elected leaders to test every five years, so that the governments had to remember that, ultimately, it is it the people who rule this country.
All this is not to claim that there are no defects in the system that we have adopted in India. There have certainly been instances when principles have been bent, and rules broken, in order to subvert the mechanisms for personal gain by selfish and unscrupulous persons and institutions. But we have seen that such aberrations automatically get adjusted over time. We have witnessed many occasions when even illiterate voters taught an abject lesson to those who wished to adopt dictatorial means. That is why unlike in countries such as Russia, where people overthrew despotic regimes, leading to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, no such fate has befallen our country.
There are several reasons, of course, for India being not able to achieve the desired levels of progress in many sectors. For instance, our system permits many contradictory and conflicting philosophies and persuasions. Investments and capitalistic approaches are prompted along with labour unions with the right to strike work. Industries are given subsidies and other concessions to encourage production, while we simultaneously accept that workers should have many rights, including a share in the management. Policies aimed at increased production and productivity in food grains and other crops, are in place side by side with forward-looking programme of land reforms including land ceilings.
Likewise, universal suffrage was brought in at one stroke in our country, including votes for women, steps for which movements had to be launched and took a long time in other countries. And then since were elections helping more frequently than we originally thought they would. Naturally, all these phenomena have caused a few bumps on the journey that the country has undertaken in over the last seven decades. They are all part and parcel of the travails of a democracy and should be understood as such. To compare it with military rule or a despotic regime such as the one in China is absolutely meaningless.
That such systems lead to disastrous consequences has been seen repeatedly shown in several countries’ history. A caged bird will not be happy even if it is given an apple. What it wants is freedom – the freedom to fly in search of food, whether it finds it or not. It may find something to eat, it may not. And what it finds may not be of good quality. Even its own existence may be in danger. Still the bird would like to leave the gilded cage and take the risk that accompanies such life. If such is the case with the bird, what about a human being, whose brain is better developed and who has higher communication skills.
Just because a person has been given food, clothing and shelter, one cannot expect contentment. A human being also needs the freedom of expression – a right for which many of our freedom fighters fought and gave their lives. The precious and invaluable independence the country has secured on account of the great sacrifices made by our forefathers cannot be mortgaged merely in order to secure a few economic or financial gains for the country – a bargain no Indian citizen will ever agree to.
That is the reason why, even 50 years after the advent of Naxalism, Maoist parties are still unable to win at the hustings. All well-meaning Indians will hope that they should they should continue the life they are leading, albeit with some improvements.