The Communist Party of China (CPC), which begins its centenary celebrations on July 1, is vastly different now from the revolutionary force it was at its inception, when its mission was to liberate its homeland from the morass it had sunk into. Today, the CPC has all but forgotten the revolution and transformed itself into the establishment in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Many would say it’s the PRC’s real government-- a role into which it has grown for the past 72 years of Communist China’s existence, ever since Mao Zedong’s Red Army swept into power in 1949, overthrowing Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, relegating them to the island of Taiwan, targeted by Beijing as a “separatist province” but in the eyes of the rest of the world a thriving, flourishing democracy.
All those who regard the CPC as a political party, perhaps the biggest one in the world, miss the point. It is anything but a party, it is just another name for the Chinese State. Just consider this. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which has been locked in a standoff with the Indian Army in eastern Ladakh for the past one year and more, is just another wing of the CPC, and supreme authority over the PLA as well as the Chinese Air Force and Navy is wielded by China’s Central Military Commission, which too is subordinate to the party.
When it began its journey 100 years ago, the PLA was not a part of the CPC. It began with six “small groups” from Shanghai, Beijing, Changsha, Wuhan, Guangzhou, and Jinan, holding their first session in Shanghai in July 1921. There is some doubt about the July 1 date, though; according to some the first congress may have been held in mid-July, so the official date of the CPC’s founding is a bit uncertain.
The times were indeed terrible. In the aftermath of the First World War, there were endless political feuds, defeat, capitulation, humiliation, abject poverty, agrarian distress, and a “war of all against all” in China’s hinterland. Into this scenario emerged young Mao Zedong, then just 28, as one constant CPC figure through the worst of times, as the party was endlessly hounded by multiple, powerful rivals, resulting in all-round catastrophe. Understandably, such mindless bloodshed and mounting casualties led to raising one’s own forces from the ragtag, indisciplined, but hardy, inexhaustible source of peasant recruits in the countryside.
Through such trials and tribulations was born the PLA in the mid-1920s, with Mao taking command after considerable friction within. Farmers transformed into fighters under the CPC to “liberate and give political emancipation to the people”, giving birth to Mao’s politico-military doctrine: “The Party commands and controls the gun, not the other way around”. Here were sown the seeds of the CPC assuming control of the PLA and by extension to the future Chinese State.
The firman of Mao’s military mind continues till this day: “The basic principle of war is to preserve oneself and destroy the enemy.” (May 1938) Also: “The CPC should pay great attention to the study of military matters.” (November 1938)”. This politico-military interface ensures that at the slightest provocation, the CPC had absolute right to mobilise and deploy the PLA to crush any situation or what it sees as opposition to its absolute control. This was evident in the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when the mighty party felt threatened by a small assembly of students and dissenters; it is seen now with the massacre of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the crackdown in Hong Kong. The first CPC-PLA murder, however, took place at Xizang (Tibet) in 1950, where the operations to “cleanse” Buddhist seminaries continued for years, eventually leading to the Dalai Lama’s flight to India in 1959.
In most external matters, though, the CPC-PLA largely operated through deceit, rather than direct force, with the major exceptions of Korea in 1950, India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979. It is evident for decades that the CPC-PLA holds India in unalloyed contempt, as it is convinced this country’s messy, raucous democracy and its multiple political parties cannot be a match for authoritarian Beijing. For reasons best known to them, some Indians appear determined to ignore this reality.
In several stages since 1949 -- with interruptions during the Cultural Revolution and the brief promise of the Deng Xiaoping years -- this CPC-PLA monolith has grown today into an oversized, overweight and over-centralised system, which will be overburdened in the foreseeable future as China’s global ambitions takes the world head-on via multi-pronged and multi-forked fangs, through land, air, water and cyberspace.
India got a direct taste of the CPC’s meddling in the late 1960s, after the 1962 war, when poison was injected into our body politic through the Naxalbari movement starting May 1967; and the creation of a brigade of a few thousand young men (and some women too), known as Naxalites, operating (perhaps unwittingly) as the PLA’s foot soldiers. Most Indians remained in the dark, except those directly affected in eastern and later northeast India.
The CPC-PLA’s tentacles reach into every part of China, and beyond. Not only does the party run every aspect of the military and government, with a cell in every unit, and all appointments and promotions possible only with its approval; its reach extends not just to state-run industrial enterprises but also the private sector -- including internationally known technology, telecom and e-commerce giants. These are usually coerced, threatened, blackmailed or else persuaded to do the party’s bidding.
The CPC doesn’t use only Chinese nationals. All Chinese-origin people living overseas might get a call for help, as several cases emerged in the US courts, of people with relatives or family ties in China being bullied into spying or working for the CPC-PLA.
For “Mission India”, the CPC-PLA will use every resource, anyone with an Indian visa -- from tourist to fraudster, criminal to smuggler; spies to cyber pirates; ocean-going fishermen to journalists; the People’s Bank of China to rail, telecom and highway techies, agricultural advisers to embassy officials, even students. Incidentally, China hasn’t been giving visas to Indians since November 2020.
How long will Indians remain myopic and gullible about the PRC’s real agenda? As our sovereignty is trampled upon and our soldiers get killed at the border, hordes of CPC-PLA lawbreakers go unpunished in India. The government seems to be in a trance. As the CPC marks its centenary and extends the reach of its Belt and Road plans, an economic disaster looms for India and the rest of the world.
The writer is an advocate practising in the Supreme Court. The views expressed are personal.