Why dynasties, 'first families' that plague Indian politics are antithetical to democracy

In Indian politics, a Congressman — especially a party spokesperson — is inherently attuned to defend the idea of political dynasties. For the Grand Old Party has survived on dynasties; from Jawaharlal Nehru, to Indira Gandhi, to Rajiv Gandhi and now Rahul Gandhi – to an occasional appearance by sister Priyanka, whose maiden name emerges as per convenience.

If a spokesperson does not defend the party's political lineage, he or she would perhaps be out of a job. Which can explain why Randeep Surjewala, AICC in charge communications, had recently said: “I have not seen the statements made by Karti Chidambaram… I will definitely like to look into it. However, last I checked, Karti fought from the Parliament seat of his father."

 Why dynasties, first families that plague Indian politics are antithetical to democracy

File image of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. PTI

He was referring to Karti's recent take on the Indian polity, where he had said that the political parties, including Congress, had become "family private limited" companies. Surjewala, in his response, employed a simple expedient to accuse Karti of hypocrisy.

Karti, son of former home and finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, had contested from Shivaganga in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls – the senior’s former constituency.

Surjewala played smart and pointed out in his response that India has had several prime ministers who were not part of a dynasty: Gulzari Lal Nanda, Lal Bahadur Shastri, PV Narasimha Rao, and Manmohan Singh.

He did not, however, mention any of the prime ministers who were in fact from 'the family': Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, or the party's publicly anointed heir to the gaddhi (throne), Rahul.

Nehru might not have set out to establish a political dynasty but the current crop of Congressmen are clearly in favour of this practice, or else why would they have flocked to Sonia Gandhi when the party was in trouble. Congress, with its track record, has shown that it heavily relies on and needs 'the family' to survive.

Karti spoke the truth, and so did Surjewala, and here, we have unanimity within the Congress about the existence of dynastic politics. It seems that only Congress has reacted to Karti's statements – while other parties have not – either because they are guilty of it or because the media did not ask the other parties.

"They (youth) do not have space in any party. They cannot join any traditional party, be it the Congress, DMK, or AIADMK… All political parties have become private family properties… the existing parties are family private limited (enterprises). There cannot be any alternative view there. You have to sing paeans to the supreme leader and if the leader wishes, one may get some position," Karti had said.

But the report in The Indian Express that had quoted Karti's comments had mentioned that he had said so 'reportedly'. Even if he had not said so, the truth stares us in the face.

Incidentally, another report in the The Times of India from Lucknow the following day said that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s wife, Sadhna Gupta, wanted her son, Prateek, to become a member of parliament.

Nothing could've bolstered Karti’s views on dynastic politics better than this woman, who not only wants her entire family in elected posts but also spoke about her chances in politics. "Netaji (Mulayam) didn't allow me to join politics, but I contributed my bit behind the scenes," she said.

In fact, dynasties are a disease which debilitate the democracy by concentrating power and wealth within a few families, where one begets the other and vice versa.

It is not that other families in politics are not guilty of the same. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the party "with a difference", has also joined this bandwagon. If not in parliament, then at the local panchayat and municipal levels, they are found furthering not democratic politics but dynastic interests.

The Nationalist Congress Party has Sharad Pawar at the helm, who even after retiring from politics got elected to the Rajya Sabha and runs the party. His daughter is also in parliament and he has a nephew in the state Assembly. The Pawar family's influence in politics is widespread.

If the Nehru-Gandhi gharana is enduring, then the Mulayam clan's impact on politics is larger. Perhaps the largest, if you look at this graphic. On a relatively smaller canvas, with a foot in Delhi, the Mulayam clan is numerically stronger. And now, the doyen’s wife, who herself had wanted to enter the political pray but was kept out, wants to add her son to the list.

As Firstpost had noted earlier, Uttar Pradesh’s First Family comes ahead of politics in the state. The report had argued “how the parliamentary party could perhaps have a full quorum if the elected from Samajwadi Party met at the family dinner table. The party posts, the parliamentary seats, the government offices they hold, overlap ever so nicely that it is not unusual for the son, Akhilesh Yadav to refer to father Mulayam not as papa or daddy or pitaji but as Netaji”. The family has since split and so has the party.

But it would be unkind to limit the dynastic tendency to the Pawars or the Yadavs. Bihar’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose daughter is married to a Mulayam’s grandnephew (an MP himself), and the Badals of Punjab, where the father is a chief minister, the son a deputy chief minister and the daughter-in-law an MP, can also be accused of the same.

In Kashmir, the Mufti family and the Abdullahs bring up the list. In fact, there are so many more that the list would be as long as several arms.

Should the ongoing Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab throw up results dethroning these families, it would not mean that they are removed from the political scene. All political dynasties have made a business of politics, and even if they do not contest an election, they run the politics.

An example of the same is the Thackerays of Maharashtra. One is the founder, the son a successor chief of the Shiv Sena, and the grandson has cut his teeth at the youth level.

Updated Date: Mar 08, 2017 20:11:03 IST