Akhilesh Yadav is making headlines across the country, and for all the wrong reasons. A Rs 20 lakh reason, to be specific.
“A vehicle would provide mobility to MLAs and help them work more effectively,” said the next-gen CM of his bold proposal to allow MLAs to buy a car with funds allotted to development. Surely it’s best to visit one’s constituents in air-conditioned comfort – paid for by their hard-earned taxes, no less.
Cue the editorial hand-wringing. “The country’s youngest CM, Akhilesh Yadav, had raised hopes of ushering in a modern outlook toward governance. Instead, the latest move shows that he’s still to free himself from the feudal culture of dispensing largesse,” despaired the Times of India.
Oh, Akhilesh we never knew ye.
The pattern repeats itself over and again, from Rajiv to Kanimozhi to Rahul to Akhilesh. Every politician’s kid on the rise evokes the initial Pavlovian media drool: fawning prose, repetitive themes, and near-identical language. Take, for instance, the India Today profile of Akhilesh Yadav at the height of the UP elections. Cool iPads symbol of his modern, tech-savvy style? Check. Urban, upper class beta rediscovering his rural roots? NextGen leader who is all about empowering the youth? Young man on a mission to modernise and reform? Invocation of the usual descriptors: yuvraj, prince, heir apparent, et al? Check, check and check.
In a matter of months, all that praise has turned to dust, the promise of change trumped by politics as usual. As Firstpost noted last month, UP is going right back to the future under Akhilesh Yadav. All those old Mulayam buddies – aka thugs – are back where they once belonged, i.e. as cabinet ministers, top bureaucrats, and senior police officers. And unlike their young CM, they have delivered results: 800 murders, 270 rapes, 256 kidnappings and 720 cases of loot within two months.
But why the exaggerated disappointment and surprise? Like all political heirs, Akhilesh baba has stayed mostly true to his father’s legacy, commitments and loyalists. Did we really think that the son of Mulayam would become a moral crusader? That he staked a claim to his father’s grand old Samajwadi Party to remake it in a purer image?
Politics is not a Bollywood movie. There are no honest sons (or daughters, wives and assorted relatives) of corrupt leaders out to redeem their sins. In real life – as opposed to reel life – they ride into power on the coattails of a surname, and spend much of their political career being defined by the same. Sure, there may be good intentions, a desire to do better, but their very raison d’etre is a powerful sense of entitlement.
“Ex-CMs’ kids form a dynasts’ club,” reads the headline of today’s Deccan Herald’s story, which informs us:
Kumar Bangarappa, son of the late S Bangarappa, Mamatha Nichani, daughter of the late Ramakrishna Hegde, Mahima Patel, son of the late J H Patel, Kailashnath Patil, son of the late Veerendra Patil, Dinesh Gundu Rao, son of late R Gundu Rao and Dr Ajay Singh, son of Dharam Singh met at the Congress Bhavan here on Monday, and had a chat with party state general secretary B L Shankar who has taken interest in bringing them together and encouraging them to claim their political legacy.
Yup, “claim their political legacy,” because elected office is their birthright. When the gaddi becomes a throne – to be passed down from one generation to another – the very stuff of democracy becomes irrelevant. An Akhilesh Yadav’s or Kumar Bangarappa’s claim to a ticket or party leadership is based purely on lineage, not their political values or vision.
None of those SP honchos supported Akhi baba because they thought he would deliver change. And the same goes for the helpful Mr Shankar, who tells the Herald, “Assembly elections are fast approaching. We want every member of the party to get involved in strenghtening the party. Even legacy factor may work in our favour. Hence, the efforts to involve children of former CMs for the party work.”
As for the heirs themselves, why would they leverage their father’s name only to disown his politics? As much as – and perhaps more than – any other leader, the political scion has no greater commitment other than his succession to the gaddi – a matter of vital importance to him and his entire family. And it accounts for a peculiar lack of substance noted by author Patrick French in a conversation with a Congress insider about the parliamentary scions:
What did they believe in?
“It hasn’t crystallised at all. These boys have all seen the world. They don’t have an ideology.”
This was intended, I think, as a compliment, the idea being that India had suffered from, and to an extent still suffers from, ideological politics.
Did the new hereditary MPs… have plans?
“They work really hard. Their constituents think they will just put in a call and get electricity for their village. They feel there is so much to do, they don’t know where to begin.”
Why had they entered politics?
“I can’t promise they are not wanting to make money. I wouldn’t say it’s from idealism, except perhaps with Rahul. He’s not sentimental, he has a clinical mind.”
They work hard, have so much to do, want to do better, also make money… Blah, blah, blah. Akhilesh Yadav is just one more member of a new generation of insubstantial, amorphous, hereditary politicians who talk reform but symbolise the status quo. As French notes, every MP under the age of 30 in the Lok Sabha is an heir, as are 66 percent of MPs under the age of 40.
In Indian politics, the only thing that changes is the name, and only the first one, at that.