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Mainstream, VOL LII No 36, August 30, 2014

Corrupt China and Lessons for India

Sunday 31 August 2014

by Prachi Aggarwal

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in India in September, comparisons and contrasts of both the leaders has begun with renewed vigour. It cannot be doubted that Narendra Modi received a landslide victory because he was perceived as a strong alternative to the 60-year-old corruption plaguing the Indian political system. However, corruption has not only been bearing resonance in weak democracies like India but also has reverberation in strong political systems like that of China. Our brethren from the neighbourhood country did not get to choose their leader, yet their leader (Xi Jinping) chose the anti-graft campaign to be his moot topic of action.

Corruption or fubai in China is a word which perhaps is the fall-out of having a culture of guanxi or connections. Expressions like zou hou men (back-door entry) and ta you guanxi (he had connections) are part of everyday vocabulary in China. China’s case for corruption thrives on two major charges of ostentatious living and hedonism. The spree started with the outgoing President Hu Jintao in his farewell ceremony, signing off by describing corruption as the last nail in the coffin of the Communist Party’s death (read ‘collapse of party‘ and ‘fall of the state’ were considered as a ‘natural outcome to each other’). This was an important signal to Xi and the party advising in concrete terms about where to start from before handing over the reins to him. Xi then made some emphatic statements regarding ‘upholding the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time’ which have gone viral in the media since then.

Since the initiation of Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign, many government officials, business honchos and now even high-profile military cadres have undergone ‘state investigation’ for their involvement in the ‘neglect of duties’ and ‘disruption of public order’—a sweet and subtle phrase for being corrupt and anti-government. Though the recent purges are done on charges of corruption, not all agree to buy this rationale and bank upon the historical reason of party infighting and political bickering as one of the primary reasons for ‘party purges’. Questions are raised about whether Xi is controlling corruption only for the party’s sake or has his own vested interests served in the process. Is it a fight for the people of the state or against his own opponents? Whether it is political gimmick or real effort, it cannot be denied that Xi Jinping has earned greater mileage in terms of winning public support through his swift follow-up of the ‘chosen’ tiger or flies. Xi’s approach to corruption is considered by many as reminiscent of Mao’s populist approach where he appeared as a people’s leader while at the same time silencing his critics or those who stood to threaten his suzerainty and authority over the party.

Indian Connection with Chinese Corruption

The Chinese case of corruption is no different from the Indian case. The basic difference between Xi and Modi after their rise to power has been their approach towards their opponents. While Xi took a stiff stand against them, Modi adopted a conciliatory aproach, even giving them key positions in his government. However, what is to be found out is how Modi tackles corruption both within and outside his party. None have been framed under his brief rule and his relatively softer stand on ‘tainted Ministers’ has raised eyebrows about his own sincerity towards the issue.

The Chinese anti-corruption drive is moni-tored by Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan. As Xi promises to ‘shut power in the cage of system’ and Wang reiterates by calling for innovation in the system through the ‘shock and awe’ campaign, it cannot be denied that Wang and Xi share a certain level of understanding with each other and are keen on building a no- nonsense approach in the case of corruption. An analogy can be drawn about Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley who are tackling the issue of Swiss bank accounts in absolute secrecy and confidence in each other and are not ready to divulge any reports to the media.

What remains to be seen is whether Modi will draw any lessons from his Chinese counterpart or if he will turn the new oppor-tunity into a pyrrhic victory for India.

The author is a Ph.D scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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