a) The rise and rise of Xi Jinping

The recently-concluded 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was an intricately choreographed political theatre which showcased President Xi Jinping’s primacy, his vision and his status as the helmsman of the party and the nation. China’s confidence in the validity of its chosen path and its ambitions of “restoring” its global leadership role were also on full display. While this conclave was more about reaffirmation of trends evolving since Mr. Xi’s ascendance to power at the 18th Party Congress, rather than charting out new policy directions, it has significant implications for India.

Signature ideology

The Congress has confirmed Mr. Xi’s standing as the most powerful Chinese leader in the post-Deng era. His vision for the future of China, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, is enshrined in the party constitution as part of its guiding ideology. A Xinhua commentary gushingly suggests that “Xi Jinping’s thought will be China’s signature ideology and the new communism”, the implication being that it supersedes and encompasses the doctrinal offerings of previous leaders. Mr. Xi has become the only leader after Mao (with his “Mao Zedong Thought”) to have his eponymous ideological contribution written into the party charter while in office. “Deng Xiaoping Theory” was adopted after Deng’s death, and contributions of two of Mr. Xi’s predecessors, Hu Jintao (“Scientific Outlook”) and Jiang Zemin (“Three Represents”), are not named after them. While this self-elevation and his position as the “lingxiu”, a wise and great leader, makes Mr. Xi the principal arbiter of China’s future directions over the next five years and possibly beyond, it is does not yet put him on a par with Mao and Deng. Arguably, Deng did not need a theory named after him or to hold many offices to bring about transformational changes in China. Mr. Xi is a transformative leader in the making but has a long way to go before he can rival Mao and Deng in impact and legacy. Mr. Xi has, however, taken decisive steps to move away from Deng’s legacy in four key areas: collective leadership; identification of successors well ahead of the transfer of power; a measure of differentiation between the party and the state; and the dictum of China biding its time, keeping a low profile and never claiming leadership. Deng had institutionalised collective leadership to correct the problems of “excessive concentration of power” witnessed under Mao. With Mr. Xi steadily accumulating levers of authority and eliminating rivals, there has been a shift towards personalised rule in his first term and now at the Party Congress. The erosion of checks that it involves has attendant risks for China.

The new team

The new Politburo is packed with Mr. Xi’s close associates. By one count, there are as many as 14 of his allies among 25 members of the Politburo. However, the composition of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) is more balanced and possibly the result of a compromise, thus suggesting limits to Mr. Xi’s authority. Premier Li Keqiang has retained his position, along with Mr. Xi, and of five new members, only one (Li Zhanshu) is seen as a Xi protégé, while others have links to his predecessors but cannot be described as rivals. Mr. Xi had changed virtually all Provincial Party Secretaries in the months ahead of the 19th Congress, and appointments since the Congress have underlined his sway over personnel matters. In another departure from the post-Deng practice, no potential successor to Mr. Xi has been included in the new line-up of the PBSC. This has kept open the possibility of him staying on as the paramount leader or the power behind the throne well beyond 2022, when he completes his second term as the party leader. Though the party constitution rules out “life tenure”, it sets no term limits for any office, unlike the state constitution which has a two-term limit for presidency and other senior positions. It is still too early to figure out how the post-2022 scenario will pan out, but it seems unlikely today that Mr. Xi will completely exit from the leadership position as his predecessor Hu Jintao did at the end of his second term. The absence of a succession plan has potential perils in a party which has witnessed destructive factional feuds in the past. Mr. Xi’s penchant for the dominance of the party, including in the economic domain, has received a boost at the Congress. In his work report, he reaffirmed a key message of his 2013 third plenum policy statement that the market should play the “decisive” role in allocation of resources but the state would take the “leading role” in the economy. His preference for maintaining a strong state and party role in the economy with minimal privatisation of state-owned assets and firm control over social and financial risks is unlikely to change in the wake of the Congress. Likewise, while he is positioning China as a defender of globalisation, it comes with a strong dose of mercantilism. For India, one key outcome of the party conclave is the articulation of China’s increasingly explicit great power ambitions. In his speech, Mr. Xi talked about China becoming “a global leader of composite national strength and international influence” and moving closer to the centre-stage by mid-century. A Xinhua commentary of October 24 is more candid: “By 2050… China is set to regain its might and re-ascend to the top of the world.” In sync with Mr. Xi’s “Chinese dream” enunciated five years ago, an overarching theme of the Party Congress was the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “restoration” of China’s centrality on the global stage. In his speech, Mr. Xi spoke of China as a “strong country” or “great power” as many as 30 times, jettisoning the earlier coyness about the country’s great power ambitions. The preoccupation with building up global combat capabilities to safeguard China’s overseas interests also figures prominently in Mr. Xi’s vision. Arguably the most ambitious restructuring of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the last 50 years currently underway is focussed on joint command, power projection capability and the party’s control on the military. Mr. Xi has set the goal of completing modernisation of the armed forces by 2035 and transforming the PLA into a world-class military by 2050. In a significant departure from China’s position in the post-Mao period of not seeking to export its model, Mr. Xi has suggested that “the Chinese path… offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence, and it offers Chinese wisdom and approach to solving problems facing mankind”. It is to be seen how far China will go to promote its model as an alternative to liberal, capitalist democracy and the “Washington Consensus”. However, China is likely to intensify its efforts to shape its periphery and forge a “world community of shared destiny” centred around it. With the U.S. in temporary retreat and the West distracted by internal challenges, China considers this to be a period of strategic opportunity to take its great power project to the next level in the new era that Mr. Xi has envisioned.

The BRI gauntlet

Mr. Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the key instrument in this grand strategy and it is now embedded in the party constitution. There is nothing to suggest that China is inclined to address India’s concerns about the BRI. In a development possibly linked to China’s enhanced global agenda, for the first time since 2003, the Politburo includes a diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi. As the Chinese special representative for boundary talks with India, he has had extensive interactions with us. It may also be noted that since his 2014 visit to India, President Xi has emerged as the principal Chinese interlocutor for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the past, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh engaged primarily with Premier Wen Jiabao. Given Mr. Xi’s pre-eminence, his being personally invested in the relationship with India has its advantages. Looking ahead, a more assertive China will be one of the most critical factors shaping India’s external environment, apart from engendering new challenges in the management of bilateral relations, more so as the footprints of the two re-emergent countries will increasingly overlap.

b) On NTPC boiler blast: Unsafe boilers

The boiler explosion at NTPC’s Unchahar power plant in Rae Bareli underscores the importance of inspections and protocols for hazardous industrial operations. It has cost at least 32 lives and caused severe injuries to scores of personnel. High pressure boilers are hazardous pieces of equipment, which are strictly regulated with special laws. In fact, the basic objective of the Indian Boilers Act, 1923 is to ensure the safety of life and protection of property by mandating uniform standards in the quality and upkeep of these units. That the Uttar Pradesh government failed miserably in meeting this objective is evident from the accident at the public sector facility. Quite clearly, the accident was entirely preventable because boilers are designed to provide warnings as soon as dangerous pressure builds up and trigger automatic safety devices at a critical point. They should undergo periodic inspections to ensure that all these features are working and intact. At the Unchahar plant, the blocking of an outlet for waste gases by ash, unusual in a fairly new boiler, calls for an inquiry into the quality of the equipment and the fuel used. Ideally, these aspects should be investigated by an external agency and not the NTPC. Industrial regulation has, unfortunately, come to be viewed as a barrier to ease of doing business in India. This is a result of inefficiency and corruption and the typical response of governments has been to relax crucial safety checks. Self-certification and third-party certification of facilities has received support from policymakers even in the case of boilers. Soon after assuming office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi likened maintenance of boilers to that of a privately owned car, where owners should be trusted to do their best because they understand the need for safety in its operation. But the two are not comparable. The Unchahar accident shows it is in everyone’s interest to have a transparent regulatory mechanism for hazardous industrial activity. The safety and welfare of workers and the public at large cannot be compromised. A rigorous approach to accident reporting must become part of the process if the weak spots in regulation are to be addressed. National Crime Records Bureau data provide insights into casualties caused by industrial boiler and gas cylinder explosions — there were 61 deaths in 2015 — and the rise in the number of accidents over the previous year points to the need for strict enforcement of safety protocols. The loss suffered by families of workers due to an accident that could have been averted cannot be compensated just financially. It must be the Centre’s endeavour to see that measures taken to make it easy to do business do not translate into lack of regulation, and putting lives at risk. Administrative reform can eliminate the corruption of inspector raj and achieve transparent regulation, while keeping the workplace safe.


1) Intricately

Meaning: Very complicated or detailed.

Example: An intricate network of canals.

Synonyms: Complex, Tangled

Antonyms: Simple, Straightforward

2) Choreographed

Meaning: Plan and control (an event or operation).

Example: The committee choreographs the movement of troops.

3) Helmsman

Meaning: A person who directs a ship or boat, using a handle or wheel.

4) Conclave

Meaning: A private meeting.

Example:  The conclave elected the new pope on the fifth ballot.

Synonyms: Gathering, Assembly

5) Era

Meaning: A date or event marking the beginning of a new and distinct period of time.

Example: The landing of this English governor was an era in their lives.

Synonyms: Epoch, Age, Period

6) Enshrined

Meaning: Preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected.

Example: The right of all workers to strike was enshrined in the new constitution.

Synonyms: Embody, Realize

7) Gushingly

Meaning: Expressing a positive feeling, especially praise, in such a strong way that it does not sound sincere.

Example: One of the more gushing newspapers described the occasion as “a fairy-tale wedding”.

8) Eponymous

Meaning: (Of a person) giving their name to something.

Example: The eponymous hero of the novel.

9) Arbiter

Meaning: A person whose views or actions have influence in a particular sphere.

Example: An arbiter of taste.

Synonyms: Judge, Authority

10) On a par

Meaning: Equal or similar to someone or something.

Example: In my opinion, none of the new jazz trumpeters are on a par with Miles Davis.

11) Arguably

Meaning: It may be argued (used to qualify the statement of an opinion or belief).

Example: She is arguably the greatest woman tennis player of all time.

Synonyms: Possibly, Plausibly

12) Legacy

Meaning: An amount of money or property left to someone in a will.

Example: My grandmother died and unexpectedly left me a small legacy.

Synonyms: Bequest, Heritage

13) Dictum

Meaning: A short statement that expresses a general truth or principle.

Example: The old dictum ‘might is right.

Synonyms: Axiom, Adage

14) Biding

Meaning: An attempt to achieve or get something.

Example:  Her bid for re-election was unsuccessful.

15) Politburo

Meaning: The main government group in a Communist country, which makes all the important decisions.

16) Allies

Meaning: A person or organization that cooperates with or helps another in a particular activity.

Example: He was forced to dismiss his closest political ally.

Synonyms: Associate, Colleague

Antonyms: Enemy, Opponent

17) Predecessors

Meaning: A person who held a job or office before the current holder.

Example: The new President’s foreign policy is very similar to that of his predecessor.

Synonyms: Forerunner, Precursor

Antonyms: Successor

18) Paramount

Meaning: More important than anything else; supreme.

Example: The interests of the child are of paramount importance.

Synonyms: Uppermost, Supreme

19) Throne

Meaning: Used to signify sovereign power.

Example: The heir to the throne.

Synonyms: Rule, Command

20) Pan out

Meaning: End up; conclude.

Example: He’s happy with the way the deal panned out.

Synonyms: Result, Develop

21) Perils

Meaning: Serious and immediate danger.

Example: You could well place us both in peril.

Synonyms: Danger, Jeopardy

Antonyms: Safety, Security

22) Feuds

Meaning: Be engaged in a prolonged and bitter quarrel or dispute.

Example: Hoover feuded with the CIA for decades.

Synonyms: Quarrel, Fight

23) Penchant

Meaning: A strong or habitual liking for something or tendency to do something.

Example: He has a penchant for adopting stray dogs.

24) Plenum

Meaning: An assembly of all the members of a group or committee.

Example: The seventh plenum of the Communist Party central committee.

25) Enunciated

Meaning: Express (a proposition, theory, etc.) in clear or definite terms.

Example: A written document enunciating this policy.

Synonyms: Express, Utter

26) Overarching

Meaning: Most important, because of including or affecting all other areas.

Example: The overarching theme of the election campaign was tax cuts.

27) Jettisoning

Meaning: Abandon or discard (someone or something that is no longer wanted).

Example: The scheme was jettisoned.

Synonyms: Dump, Drop

Antonyms: Load, Keep

28) Coyness

Meaning: The quality of being reluctant to give details about something regarded as sensitive; reticence.

Example: His coyness about his sexual orientation.

29) Envisioned

Meaning: Imagine as a future possibility; visualize.

Example: She envisioned the admiring glances of guests seeing her home.

Synonyms: Visualize, Imagine

30) Agenda

Meaning: A plan of things to be done or problems to be addressed.

Example: He vowed to put jobs at the top of his agenda.

Synonyms: Schedule, Programme

31) Interlocutor

Meaning: Someone who is involved in a conversation and who is representing someone else.

Example: Abraham was able to act as interpreter and interlocutor for our group.

32) Assertive

Meaning: Having or showing a confident and forceful personality.

Example: The job may call for assertive behaviour.

Synonyms: Confident, Forceful

Antonyms: Retiring

33) Engendering

Meaning: Cause or give rise to (a feeling, situation, or condition).

Example: The issue engendered continuing controversy.

Synonyms: Cause, Produce

34) Protocols

Meaning: The original draft of a diplomatic document, especially of the terms of a treaty agreed to in conference and signed by the parties.

Example: Signatories to the Montreal Protocol.

Synonyms: Agreement, Treaty

35) Miserably

Meaning: In a wretchedly unhappy manner.

Example: He stared miserably into his hands.

36) Crucial

Meaning: Of great importance.

Example: This game is crucial to our survival.

Synonyms: Critical, Necessary

Antonyms: Unimportant

37) Rigorous

Meaning: Extremely thorough and careful.

Example: The rigorous testing of consumer products.

Synonyms: Meticulous, Careful

Antonyms: Slapdash

38) Casualties

Meaning: A person or thing badly affected by an event or situation.

Example: The building industry has been one of the casualties of the recession.

Synonyms: Victim, Sufferer

39) Averted

Meaning: Prevent or ward off (an undesirable occurrence).

Example: Talks failed to avert a rail strike.

Synonyms: Prevent, Stop

40) Endeavour

Meaning: An attempt to achieve a goal.

Example: An endeavour to reduce serious injury.

Synonyms: Attempt, Try