New Delhi: Xi Jinping is courting disaster by positioning himself as China’s dictator-for-life. China has a preponderance of internal control systems to ensure Xi’s permanent ascent. This situation operated to an even greater degree when Deng Xiaoping finally consolidated himself as Mao Tse Tung’s successor. Deng, however, was careful to remain the power behind the throne and not declare himself emperor. He had seen the ruin brought to China by Mao’s one-man rule. He wanted no repetition. At the same time, he was not ready or willing to dismantle the Chinese communist party and the pre-eminence it enjoyed. You might disagree with Deng’s thesis that China’s well-being was tied to the survival and expansion of the communist party. At the same time though, Deng privileged the party over personalities, and chose a succession of leaders for China, the last of them being Xi Jinping. Xi has broken Deng’s golden rule. The decision will rebound on him.

A single-party system cannot be superior to a multiparty one, which is representative of democracy. Orderly transmission of power is the greatest strength of a democracy. It brings overall stability to politics, the economy and even to geopolitics. A nation with predictable politics has the natural capacity to forge stable relations with the rest of the world. Economic growth and peace are definite by-products of this situation. Deng established a halfway house in China. While multiparty democracy was out of the question, there would nevertheless be an orderly leadership change every ten years. There would be change with continuity, the continuity represented by the Chinese communist party. Xi has overturned such careful calculations.

The cult of personality has not succeeded anywhere in the world. (There is a lesson here for Narendra Modi if he cares to heed it.) There is the disaster of Mao which China lives with to this day. In the larger communist-totalitarian world, there is the example of Joseph Stalin’s horrific dictatorship. Stalin and Mao were doughty wartime leaders. But in peace, they marched their respective countries backward. After Stalin’s terror, Russia opted for collective leadership. It proved no better. It could not reverse the decline that had set in in the Soviet system. Deng was smarter. He vowed to himself that China would not suffer disruptions like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution that Mao had inflicted on China. He designed China’s political, economic and geopolitical evolution and handpicked leaders to rebuild the nation to his vision. China’s success owes entirely to him. Xi is turning the clock back.

A dictator may start off with good intentions and even succeed for a while. Sooner than later, however, things begin to go wrong. Initially, the dictator could be sensitive to political or economic mishaps but not to the extent of blaming himself. Scapegoats will be found. As the blunders multiply, the dictator would be unwilling to heed the truth and, accordingly, the coteries around him will filter the information flow. He will be told what he desires to hear. A stage will come when the dictator becomes totally disconnected from the rest of the country and is completely unaware of the scale of disenchantment he has produced. While his good works, if any, will bring him no credit, the blame for blunders will solely go to him. Internal instability will impact geopolitics, and if China slips economically, as is very likely, the opposition to Xi will grow. The first thing a dictatorship destroys is checks and balances. Deng desired the Chinese communist party to provide institutional checks and balances with its large pool of talent. Xi has taken the path of overawing and subordinating the party. There is no doubt that he will succeed in his ambition. But he will fail as a leader. He will set China in decline exactly as Mao Tse Tung did. If Deng chose not to follow Mao’s example, he surely had good reasons. Power has clouded Xi’s judgment.

The rest of the world must prepare for middle- and long-term turbulence from China. Dictatorships are never stable or predictable. Consequently, China will become unstable and unpredictable. If this leads to economic decline, China will become a menace to world peace. East Asia will boil over with tensions and the Sino-Indian equation, scarcely friendly, will suffer more. The 1962 war partly is attributed to Mao’s personal political insecurities. There is no reason why history cannot repeat with Xi as dictator. A new phase of turbulent India-China relations has been inaugurated.