In less than three weeks, on November 8,  China will embark upon its once in a decade  top leadership change and the  Hu Jinato – Wen Jiabao combine will step down from the their respective positions as President and Prime Minister respectively.  The orientation of the top Chinese politburo leadership has  always had a bearing on how Beijing deals with its external interlocutors – be it the USA, Japan or India  - and hence the current political developments within Beijing are of considerable relevance to Delhi.

It is more coincidence that this transition is taking place soon after the extensive and emotional  recall  in India  of the 50th anniversary of the Chinese PLA attack on India on October 20, 1962.  It is pertinent to note that this anniversary received much lesser notice in China.  Concurrently the USA is all set to elect its next President on November  6 and this event also has a bearing on how the triangular relationship between China, USA and India will evolve over the next decade.

The most dramatic revelation on the eve of the Chinese leadership change has been a New York Times report implicating PM Wen Jiabao  in charges of misuse of his high office so as to benefit  immediate  family and the clique associated with him to a tune of USD $ 2 billion. . It may be recalled that this follows the even more dramatic downfall of Bo Xilali, the  former Communist Party chief in Chongqing,  who was once  regarded as a contender for induction into the highest body of governance in China.

After various charges of corruption and murder came to light,  the powerful Bo  has been  tried in court  and  expelled from the Communist Party, the legislature  and is to face prosecution. This is a rare development in the cloistered and opaque environment that surrounds factional fights in China and is also being perceived as a response to the mounting anger in China over the manner in which the top Communist Party leaders are practicing double-speak and rampant hypocrisy.    Party leaders and officials, it is averred,  pay lip service to the values  and ideology of   the  communist party  in public while amassing wealth and disproportionate assets in private.  The correspondence with what is currently happening in India is  indicative of the complex problems related to institutional integrity in large  nations  that are on the path to quick prosperity against the backdrop of globalization in trade and economic activities controlled by the state.

Leadership change in China at the top level is an intense and complex activity  which takes place in a  subterranean ad secretive manner. A Chinese academic once wryly remarked to me  - off the record -  that in the run-up to this  decadal transition, factions engage in what might be described as ‘mortal combat’  and  when it  is all over – not just blood on the floor – there are dead bodies also…which are secretly disposed off !

The metaphor is not misplaced and the pre 1962 contestation in China which saw  Mao Zedong consolidating his position by skilful manipulation of his hard-line faction is case in point. At the time the core team comprised Mao,  Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Chen Yun, Peng Dehuai and  Lin Biao.  However soon after ,  both Liu and Lin – chosen successors to  Mao were charged with treason and an attempted coup against the ‘great helmsman’.   The ruthless infighting  is best exemplified in the mysterious plane crash of Marshal Lin in September 1971, when he was fleeing to Mongolia – a subject that is still taboo on China.

It is not that corruption in high office  was confined to just one Bo Xilai . The run-up to the leadership change cuts across party and the PLA military domain.  Currently a high-profile Lt. Gen Gu Junshan , chief  of the PLA logistics department is part of he purge and top level changes in the apex military leadership are also on the cards.  
During the Hu Jintao decade, the undercurrent of  tension between his faction and that of his predecessor Jiang Zemin was part of the complex lattice of the domestic politics in China.  This divergent factional tension has also been referred to as the Beijing versus Shanghai contestation on one hand, while on the other there is the hardcore Mao loyalists (Bo Xila  is is representative)  ranged against the cautious liberal school. This was also reflected in the decision taken by Deng Xiaoping  to use force in Tiananmen in  June 1989 to quell the student protestors.

The short point is that contrary to the seeming calm that the formal images of Chinese top leadership  seem to exude – there is  intense contestation going on under the surface. Both  PM Wen  Xiabao and the disgraced Bo Xilai  have come under public scrutiny as part of this dynamic. While  Beijing  is light-years away from introducing an RTI equivalent,  communication technology has enabled  the   growing middle-class to form an active – some would say hyper-active net community  in China that is seething with frustration over what they see as an inequitable and far from 'harmonious'  society – where a few benefit from party and state linkages.

Specific to the bi-lateral relationship with India,  it appears that while Beijing is currently seeking to stabilize its  prickly relations with Washington and Tokyo ( recall the negative references to China in the recent US Presidential debates and the  Ishihara initiative to form a new  political party with an anti-China focus  in Japan ), it would seek to ensure a stable and peaceful relationship with Delhi.

Thus in a rare gesture, the acting Ambassador  of China in Delhi  – Deng Xijun noted in an op-ed  article in the Indian media (Oct 27 )  that  while the recall of October 1962 has become a “hot topic”  in India, both sides :  “….need to have a correct and comprehensive understanding of history. Only in this way can we obtain enlightenment and courage from the past, bury the ghosts of wars and conflicts, and start a new chapter in China-India relations.”

Like their Chinese counterparts, civil society in India will also wait and watch – to see how China’s top leaders  harmonize  their word with deed.  (what India refers to as ‘karni aur kathni’.)