The trial of Bo Xilai, known for his flamboyance and suave persona; till recently seen as the most upcoming among the fifth generational Chinese leaders, evoked considerable interest.
In terms of sensation, it even surpassed the trial of the 'gang of four' in the late '70s. Given the Communist Party's tight control over the judiciary, there was little doubt that Jinan Intermediate People's Court in Eastern China would find Bo guilty.
It was sometime in mid-1999, while we were on a visit to Dalian in Northern China as part of the Beijing Military Attaché Corps, that we had the privilege of being briefed by Bo, then the mayor this vibrant port city. All of us were floored by his wit and trademark corporate style, with which he had gone on to transform Dalian. He stood a class apart from the typical lacklustre senior Communist leaders.
At the time of his conviction, Bo was the member of the all-powerful politburo and party chief of Chongqing city. He was accused of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in a failed attempt to thwart investigations involving his wife Gu Kailai, charged with the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Xilai's trial was unique in many respects. It went on for five days; unusually long as per Chinese judicial norms. As against the normal practice of confessing the crime, Bo remained defiant till the end, pleading not guilty and contesting almost every aspect of the prosecutor's case. As a rare exception, he was permitted to defend himself and his lawyers were allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.
Transcripts of trial were made public. Unlike other senior politicians put on trial in the past, Bo was given wide coverage through the internet feed provided by the court. The public got an unusually unsparing view into cronyism and extravagance of the Communist Party elites. Despite censorship, his supporters remained adamant, terming the conviction as political vendetta.
Bo was handed life imprisonment and shown handcuffed while being led out of the court. Chinese state run media portrayed the judgement as proof that the current leadership under president Xi Jinping is determined to end bribe taking and the brazen trend of self-enrichment that has generated public disenchantment with the officials. Xi is known to have frequently vowed to strike down 'flies' and 'tigers'; both low and high ranking officials caught in corruption.
Asserting his innocence and maintaining stern defiance, Bo declared that his name will be cleared much like his father, famous revolutionary leader Bo Yibo, who was jailed twice by his detractors, only to emerge as one of the Communist Party's most revered luminaries.
In a lighter vein, we often took a crack at our Chinese counter parts for their rather slim constitution booklet and sketchy law manuals, as these stood no match to our voluminous documents. Their response was generally measured, marked by a serious tone and stoic expression.
One quite understood the fact that while periodic change in the ruling parties in India is a sign of a vibrant and healthy democracy, for Communist China, change would mean the very end of an era; mutation of the nation's DNA itself. That is why an apt one liner: "Democracies have all the laws but Communists have the order", sums it all.
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