The storm in the Mulayam Singh Yadav family that is ruling India’s politically most important state of Uttar Pradesh raises two questions. One, does it signal a bad omen for India’s political dynasties? Secondly, is it the first of its kind?
As I will be explaining in the following paragraphs, the answer to each of these questions is a no, though immediate future of the Yadav family, which is going to face the electorate in near future, remains uncertain.
In a chapter entitled 'India’s Political Dynasties' that I had authored in a book, 'Party System in India: Emerging Trajectories', I had argued that India has many more political dynasties today than it had in the past. Taken together, there might be at least 1,000 to 1,500 political families in India that have successfully promoted dynastic successions at various levels, national or provincial. So much so that with each general elections, more and more dynasts are entering politics, and that too successfully. They occupied 20% of the 2004 Lok Sabha and 30% of the 2009 Lok Sabha. In the 2014 Lok Sabha, the dynasts’ percentage has come down to 22, but still it is a significant number. Talking of Mulayam Singh Yadav, five of his members, including himself, are Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha.
Secondly, political dynasties have long been present in all the democracies all over the world, whether it is the United States (US), or United Kingdom or France or Japan. The US has had its shares of Clintons, Bushes and Roosevelts( According to a study, there have been some 700 families in which two or more members have served in Congress, and they account for 1,700 of the 10,000 men and women who have been elected to the federal legislature since 1774.) South Asia, South East Asia and Central Asia (all the five “stans”) abound with political dynasties. Obviously, family legacies have been like “brand names” that give the dynasts a distinct advantage, but this advantage is not permanent. In subsequent elections identification with a “family brand” is not enough to get one elected; voters do judge their performance. In other words, voters do not give the political dynasts more than one “free” election. That explains why two sons of President Franklin D Roosevelt, who were elected to the House of Representatives, were defeated when they sought elective posts in their respective states. And that explains why many dynasts in India have met electoral defeats.
Thirdly, in the Indian context it may be noted that almost all the important regional parties are essentially family-affairs. It is the concerned families, rather than the cadres, that determine all the party-activities. Given the fact that the era of coalitions in India is likely to continue in foreseeable future, these family-driven regional parties will continue to play important roles in Indian politics. In other words, India is going to be politically controlled by 1,000 to 1,500 families, though not necessarily all of them will be of equal importance. Some families will be directly in charge, others would perform the role of allies.
Now comes the second question of dissidence or rebellion within the same political family. And here, though such incidents are few in number, the fact is that they do exist. If President Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, Franklin Roosevelt (who married Theodore’s niece Eleanor and whose marriage turned out to be a huge event since it was incumbent President “gave the bride away”) was a Democrat. Similarly, France in recent years has witnessed the schism within the country’s best known political family of Le Pens (of the Far Right National Front party). Marine Le Pen, the party’s formal leader since 2011, is now an “enemy” of her father JeanMarie Le Pen, the party founder. The 47-year-old Ms Le Pen has accused her father of a strategy “somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide”, to which Mr Le Pen, now the FN’s honorary president, retaliated by saying that the party could “implode” without him. “Marine Le Pen may want my death but she cannot count on any help from me.”
Coming back to India, there have been quite a few family-splits politically. As it is, Indian royal history is full of incidents of sons conspiring against their father, the Monarch and the King (the Mughal period is quite notorious in this respect). In independent India, one may cite the same trend continuing among some leading political families. The most important one that comes to one’s mind is the Nehru-Gandhi family. It has two members(Sonia Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) who continue to lead the country’s oldest political party, the Congress, but two other members( Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi) happen to be in the ruling BJP. All the four are Members in the present Lok Sabha, with Maneka being a union cabinet minister.
The famous DMK party of Tamil Nadu now has the patriarch M. Karunanidhi’s family deeply divided. His elder son MK Azhagiri, a cabinet minister under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is now expelled from the party, with the father anointing the younger son M K Stalin as his political successor. The internal war has also involved Karunanidhi’s grand-nephews, the Marans, leading once to the ouster of Dayanidhi Maran from the Union Cabinet. Kanimozhi, the favourite daughter of Karunanidhi is a Rajya Sabha MP; nobody knows where she is in the family-tussle.
In Maharashtra, when Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb was alive, he could not manage the family’s political business well. His nephew Raj Thackeray, who was groomed since his childhood to succeed him, floated his own party — the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena — after being sidelined by Balasaheb’s son, Uddhav. Balasaheb tried to reconciliation, but in vain.
The story of the Scindia family in Madhya Pradesh runs along the similar lines. Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia, widow of the erstwhile Maharaja George Jivajirao Scindia, joined politics in 1962 and moved from the Congress to Swatantra Party but finally shifted to the BJP and remained with it till the end. Her son, late Madhavrao Scindia, joined the Congress Party and served as a Union Cabinet Minister. Her grandson Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia is now one of the leading members of the Congress; he was a junior minister under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, Rajmata’s two daughters followed the mother. Vasundhara Raje (present Chief Minister of Rajasthan) and Yashodahara Raje (a senior minister in Madhya Pradesh) have been active members of the BJP.
Here is an image explaining the family tree of the Samajwadi Party
We have the famous Abdullah family of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah, son Farooq Abdullah and grandson Omar Abdullah have all been the Chief Ministers. But it is also a fact that their party, National Conference (founded by Sheikh), did undergo a split when Sheikh’s son-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah toppled the government of Farooq Abdullah in 1984 by defecting from National Conference along with 12 party MLAs. He then joined the Congress and became the Chief Minister for two years.
The story of late Telugu Desam Party (TDP) founder N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) is also equally tragic. Though his sons joined him in politics, he trusted his son- in- law N. Chandrababu Naidu (the present Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh) the most for his undoubted ability to manage the party organisation. But things turned sour when NTR, then a widower, married Lakshmi Parvathi. His second wife was not accepted by the family. NTR’s sons joined the brother- in- law Naidu in ousting him as chief minister in 1995 and taking away the whole party from him. NTR dies a shattered man.
As can be seen above, most of the divisions within India’s famous political families have been mostly due to personal incompatibilities and insatiable political ambitions of the disputants – the factors of step-mother, son-in law, “neglected” sons and nephews and so on. These divisions have had not much to do with ideological reasons( like the two Roosevelts had their preferences for two different political parties; in the case of National Front in France, the daughter has been extremely critical of anti-Jews and pro-Nazi remarks of the father). The same seems to be the case with Yadav family in Uttar Pradesh, with stories of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav resenting the influence of his step-mother and paternal uncle on his father. The imminent split has nothing to do with the philosophy of socialism that the Uttar Pradesh’s ruling party professes to practice.
In any case, apart from some exceptions, in India family politics revolves around identities, be it of caste – Brahmins, Yadavs, Dalits etc — religion – Hindus and Muslims; regional identity – Marathas and non-Marathas; lingual identity – Tamils and non-Tamils etc. In such a political culture, political parties, attached to some identity or other, are often equated with the identity and the will of a few powerful personalities. Their families become established brands having a high recall value and the faithful hope to find emotional continuity with family heirs becoming political successors. For a voter used to voting on the lines of identity, a family pedigree provides legitimacy (to the candidate) and convenience (to the voter) at the time of choice.
On their part, all these families have been enjoying what could be described as first-mover advantage in the sense that they have been cementing forces of their respective constituents. If you take them away, the constituents will fall apart because of other inbuilt contradictions. Take away Mulayam Yadav or a Lalu Yadav or an Abdullah, their respective parties will crumble in all probability. Viewed thus, the future of Akhilesh depends on whether the Yadavs and OBCs shift their loyalty towards him from his father.
Published Date: Oct 24, 2016 06:30 pm | Updated Date: Oct 24, 2016 06:40 pm