So, China is moving to abolish term limits and essentially let Xi Jinping do a Mao if he prefers so.
On the one hand, this is sad and scary because I had really wanted to believe that CPC had become a very pragmatic and stable political organization which would guarantee the stability and predictability that the global economy desperately needs now.
On the other hand, as an Indian, this is quite exciting because, it is yet another opportunity for India to rise to the top. America committed political suicide last year and now it looks like China is on its way too. People might disagree, but empirical evidence shows that concentrating power in the hands of one person always ends badly, no matter how patriotic or honest that person professes to be.
All nations are obsessed with great men. We vote for men who would promise to turn around huge nations by eliminating everyone who is corrupt, which usually means everyone who is not singing their praise. We praise entrepreneurs who hog all credit for themselves without any hint of the teams which actually got them there.
But history, since the time when Caesar destroyed Rome has had the same lesson. Great men leave a trail of destruction behind. Progress has happened only under smaller, humbler leaders who were willing to consult and co-operate with others.
Can anyone remember the prime ministers under whom England rose to become a global power? Not really. But we all remember Churchill as a great man. And that great man presided over the destruction of a 200 year old empire.
America’s rise to prominence in the early 20th century happened under a string of forgettable presidents — Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge — none of them are names that anyone except the most hardened history buffs would remember.
Soviet Union’s greatest successes — the glory years of the space race, happened during the time of Kurushchev and Brezhnev — who were so forgettable that there are tons of jokes about how unremarkable and silly they were.
Mankind’s greatest achievement — Apollo 11, happened due to NASA’s collective effort. None of us know who were the brains behind the effort. We just know that the entire organization of NASA with hundreds and thousands of men and women achieved the impossible.
Closer home, it was the eminently forgettable and soft spoken Narasimha Rao, who managed to turn around India. India’s best years since independence have all been under soft spoken leaders who kept a low profile — Rao, Manmohan Singh, Vajpayee — none of them portrayed themselves as great men. The worst stagnation happened under Indira, who had portrayed herself as a Great leader.
China’s rise to prosperity happened under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao — again two very forgettable men who quietly compromised and negotiated the way for China to rise to the top. They did it so quietly that no one even noticed it happening.
But the public rarely appreciates such humility. We mistake humility for weakness. And then we bend over backwards before an emperor. We believe that Modi will create a new India. That Trump would make America great again. That Xi Jinping would show the world what China can do.
And that always ends badly.