The Dynasty is over; Go on Rahul, get a Real Life

by Mar 7, 2012

The Dynasty is over; Go on Rahul, get a Real Life

The Gandhis’ longevity in this “family business” is an unnatural exception that has continued for five generations. S Nagesh for Firstpost

The one simple takeout from the Uttar Pradesh elections is this: the dynasty is now on its last legs. It may soon be over.

Of course, it may be easy to make this statement after Rahul Gandhi was trounced in the UP elections – including in his pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur. The statement will also be seriously contested, for the Congress party is certainly not over. And dynasties are not restricted to the Nehru-Gandhi family alone: look at the Karunanidhi, Yadav, YSR, Pawar, Badal, Patnaik, Chautala and other dynasties sprouting all over.

Let’s get one thing clear. We are not talking dynasties in general. Limited dynasties are in the natural order of things – as the course of human civilisation shows. The history of evolution is a history of sons (and daughters) following in their parents’ footsteps – whether it is business, profession or vocation. (As an aside, let me confess, I am a third generation journalist, and I could be the last for a while.)

So, the proposition that “dynasty is over” is not a statement about all dynasties. Dynasties will come and go. One is, however, talking about The Dynasty – the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which is now into its fifth generation with Rahul Gandhi and Varun Gandhi – and could conceivably continue into the sixth if Priyanka’s kids turn out to moderately interested in politics. Her six-packing, motorcyclist hubby certainly seems to think he is in with a chance in this line of business.

However, the Gandhis’ longevity in this “family business” is an unnatural exception that has continued for five generations because of extraordinary events that catapulted many family members to do what they were not equipped to do. They are an aberration.

The proposition that “dynasty is over” is not a statement about all dynasties.Reuters

In business, there is a saying that the first generation creates wealth, the second one consolidates it, and the third one either destroys it or loses it - by letting someone else run the show to grow it. This, of course, is not an iron rule, for family rule can continue for generations, but the proposition that ultimately all dynasties have to end can be etched in stone.

There is a simple reason: despite all our beliefs in heredity and the passing down of strengths from one generation to another, the truth is success is seldom the result of heredity alone. You inherit bad qualities, too. Moreover, you need, luck, you need pluck, and a whole load of other qualities to keep succeeding. Your name may give you brand recognition, even a support system created by your dad, but ultimately success is dependent on talent in a competitive world. Your dad’s world is often not yours. Mulayam Singh may not have done as well without an Akhilesh, who represents the new.

Of course, if you own all the gold mines in a country, generations can remain rich without being particularly good at mining, but these are “natural resource exceptions” – as the Saudi royal family knows all too well. Take the oil wealth away, and few members of the Saudi family will look royal or particularly worthy of admiration.

Take the Tatas. Ratan Tata has had to look outside the family for a successor. He could also have looked outside the Parsi community – where the talent available is even greater. But Parsi sentiment – where the Tatas are seen as one of them – carried the day in his choice of  successor: Cyrus Mistry. He might be a good choice, but I am sure Ratan Tata could have found an even better successor if he had looked outside his community.

The family that runs The Hindu was, till recently, stuffed with family members in all key editorial and managerial positions. It still is. However, the newspaper is facing the heat of competition from The Times of India and has willy-nilly had to professionalise. Dynasty is pulling back in the third generation. The moral is clear: if you want institutional longevity, the family must exit.

Or take the Ambanis. Dhirubhai was the genius – he created the Reliance wealth machine. But already between his two sons one is doing better than the other. I have no doubt that by the time the third generation enters the picture, the two Reliance groups cannot be run like family enterprises.

In the west, this process happened naturally because the creation of joint stock companies automatically forced the controlling family to dilute its stake when seeking more capital for growth. By the third or fourth generation, the family no longer has the shareholding needed to control the company and institutional investors decide how it should be run.

This has not happened in India so far because of crony capitalism: Indian businessmen have, though fair means and foul, managed to retain their stakes at high levels by diddling minority shareholders of their dues and by using benami companies to play the markets and generate wealth by insider trading and other dubious practices. But as we clean up our act, what happened in America will happen here too.

Let’s cut again to the Gandhi family. We are now into the fifth generation – from Motilal, Jawaharlal, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and now Rahul. In between, we sometimes get sideways moves within the same generation (Rajiv to Sonia, or Rahul to Priyanka), depending on circumstances.

But does not the longevity of the Gandhi family in politics prove the three-generation rule wrong?

Actually, no. If we take Nehru as the first big mover and shaker (rather than Motilal) in the family, Indira was the consolidator and Rajiv Gandhi the third generation weakling who should have presided over its decline. He actually did, but we are not willing to acknowledge it.

Why did this not happen?

Two cataclysmic events seemed to change the three-generation rule. The death of Sanjay Gandhi – who would have been Indira Gandhi’s possible choice as successor – brought a super-incompetent politician (Rajiv) into the picture. The assassination of Indira Gandhi made his entry almost a no-brainer, since there were enough sycophants telling him this was the time to capitalise on a bereavement.

We all know Rajiv Gandhi did the same callous thing as Narendra Modi in 1984 to win a sectarian landslide in 1984 (Read this). But within three years, he was exposed as a disaster. It wasn’t Bofors that was his undoing. It was the way he handled the Bofors scandal that was his undoing.

The dynasty should have ended with Rajiv, but his assassination more or less pushed Sonia Gandhi into the picture. Despite what Congress sycophants will tell you, Sonia Gandhi is an incompetent politician propped up behind four walls by sycophancy. If there were not a million self-serving bootlickers in the Congress telling her she was the only one who could save the party, she would have lived a happy, healthy domestic life.

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