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PASS ON THE BATON

The event all China-watchers have been waiting for is finally upon us: the 18th National Congress of the communist party which will reveal the nine men who will rule the country for the next five years. One person who seemed sure to get in a year ago is now in disgrace. Bo Xilai, the popular high-profile party chief of Chongqing, who made Mao fashionable again, was expelled from the party. His long list of misdemeanours, including having mistresses, was detailed in the China Daily.

Mao is totally out, it seems. Observers are making much of the absence of the phrase, “Mao Ze Dong Thought”, from the party communiqué, which describes the ideology now being followed by the communist party. It’s ‘Deng Xiaoping Theory’ all the way — the market rules. This is evident from the profile of delegates elected to this year’s Congress. The majority are those who joined the party after Mao died. In 2002, only seven businessmen were elected; this year, it’s 27. And almost half of those elected to provincial committees have PhDs.

But Mao’s influence might still be around. Thirty per cent of the delegates this time, claims Xinhua, the official news agency, work at the grassroots, and these include 26 migrant workers. Among them are an innovative shipbuilding welder, a railway electrician, a dock worker, and two sanitation workers. One of them has worked as a street sweeper for 23 years, the other as a garbage truck driver for 16 years. Imagine such workers being elected as delegates to any national party convention in India.

Secret seven

Other delegates include a shoe- maker, a differently abled film projectionist and a (female) customs officer. The problem is that these delegates enjoy a one-time privilege of participating in the Congress. After that, though they are elected as representatives of the millions of communist party members, they go back to their routine lives. The real big guns are the nine Politburo Standing Committee members. Seven of the current nine are retiring. So who will replace them? The replacements for the inscrutable, expressionless president, Hu Jintao, and the likeable and warm premier, Wen Jiabao, are known. But what of the other seven? Speculation is officially discouraged, and internet posts suggesting probable names have been deleted. Even news about what policy changes, if any, may happen at the Congress is not forthcoming. For instance, a draft amendment to the communist party constitution was presented to the party’s central committee recently. What was this amendment? The papers won’t say. Strangely, what they did report was a damning indictment of the party by none other than an official committee — the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. After a two-day meet, the commission issued a statement saying that the party is faced with the growing danger of “lacking drive, incompetence, being divorced from the people, and corruption”.

Significantly, after a New York Times exposé of his family’s wealth, Wen Jiabao has formally asked the politburo to conduct an inquiry into the matter, and called for a law that would force senior leaders to declare their assets.

Security in Beijing is intense. A security “moat” of multiple checkposts has been built around the capital. New traffic rules prevent vehicles carrying dangerous substances from entering the capital for 10 days, starting November 8 , even though no closing date for the Congress has been announced yet. Vehicles from outside Beijing won’t be allowed to stay in the capital for more than three days. Cab drivers have been told to lock their doors and windows while passing through Tiananmen Square and Changan Avenue, lest people throw leaflets through them.