The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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China shadows lengthen behind the shine

Beijing, Nov. 7: It is a festival of lights but the leaders are in shadowy retreats to give final touches to the coronation of China’s new leadership.

It is not so much the elevation of Jiang Zemin’s heir apparent and Vice-President Hu Jintao that is in question. The big shadow is on what the party may look like hereafter.

Streets and buildings around Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People are bathed in magical illumination. Tomorrow morning at nine, the curtain goes up there to usher in New China’s change of guard at the Chinese Communist Party’s seven-day 16th congress.

There are other shadows lengthening behind the lights — of the June, 1989, brutal military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, of new dissidents and of the growing unrest among an increasing army of jobless peasants and workers across the country.

But the most important of them is the shadow over the character of the party. The fundamental question that party delegates will have to answer is: whose party is it anyway'

The question has been rocking the party and the people ever since Jiang Zemin took the path-breaking initiative to give party membership to businessmen and entrepreneurs. It is like the CPM in Bengal welcoming R.P. Goenka or Harsh Neotia to the party fold. It is one thing for Calcutta businessmen now to drop in at the party’s Alimuddin Street office on occasion, but a vastly different one to become party members.

The officialese will still not describe them as “capitalists” but that precisely many of them are. And many of the old guard are actually calling them that and publicly wondering whither the party is heading.

Many of these old conservatives have circulated letters and petitions questioning the party bosses’ wisdom of opening the world’s largest communist party to capitalists. “We sacrificed our lives for the revolution, for new China,” one of the letters says, “and now Jiang wants to change the party’s orientation and allow capitalists into the party.”

One former party bigwig, Bao Tong, lamented that the CPC has become the “party of the rich, the noble and the powerful”. Somewhat in the same vein, Benoy Choudhury, a veteran Bengal minister, had complained before his death that the CPM had become a party “of the contractors, for the contractors and by the contractors”.

But Jiang is no pussyfooting Indian communist. He has tried hard to convince the party that the only way communists can remain relevant in today’s world is not just by aligning with capitalists, but throwing the door open to them. The doubters were given last-minute doses of the new doctrine at a conclave earlier this week at the Jianxi Hotel where layers of security are known to have matched layers of secrecy over the deliberations.

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