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Narendra Modi's 'dynasty' narrative against Congress rings hollow; dynasticism not new to Indian politics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has consistently run down the Congress party by asserting that it is controlled by a single family, which in parts is not absolutely incorrect. In the fiery Karnataka campaign, Modi said that while he was a kaamdaar leader, the Congress president, Rahul Gandhi was a naamdar person.

At another rally, the prime minister claimed the rise in support for his party was due to "end of dynasty politics" and "rise of 'parishramwadi' or hard work-oriented politics". Other leaders, right from party president Amit Shah – who has listed ending dynasticism as one of his party's achievements – have also made similar statements repetitively.

Paradoxically, however, most of Modi's recent electoral woes have come from not-so-often-targeted dynasts and to boot, none of who are from the Congress party. Moreover, in at least two instances where the Bharatiya Janata Party has been humbled, its own counter, too, has been a dynast. Take for instance the latest round of bypolls for four Lok Sabha and ten Assembly seats in nine states.

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

The BJP's troubles were due to three dynasts from non-Congress parties – Akhilesh Yadav, Jayant Chaudhary and the latest entrant, Tejashwi Yadav, whose father's conviction has heralded his political arrival. While the two Yadav scions are second generation dynasts, Chaudhary is the third in the dynasty 'founded' by Charan Singh.

To meet the Kairana challenge, the BJP too entered a dynast in the fray – Mriganka Singh, daughter of Hukum Singh, the lawmaker whose death necessitated the bypoll. She was earlier inducted into politics and unofficially declared heir apparent in 2017 when she unsuccessfully contested as BJP candidate in the Assembly elections.

The BJP's candidate in Noorpur Assembly seat in Bijnore, Avani Singh, although not being a dynast in the classical sense, was nonetheless the widow of party MLA Lokendra Singh, who died in a road accident in February which necessitated the bypoll.

In the Karnataka elections, the BJP's failure to form the government despite being the single-largest party was also greatly due to another dynast playing the spoiler and aligning with the Congress despite being the third-largest party, HD Kumaraswamy. BY Raghavendra, elder son of BJP's BS Yeddyurappa who failed to muster support and resigned before the trust vote, too is a dynast in the making, having already been a member of the state Assembly before being denied a nomination this time.

In previous bypolls this year too, the BJP suffered reverses because of another dynast's consistent efforts at mass mobilisation in Rajasthan – Sachin Pilot. Besides the Modi-Shah duo, the defeat of the BJP in the bypolls for two Lok Sabha and one Assembly seat in Rajasthan in February, also spelt political trouble for another BJP dynast, Vasundhara Raje, daughter of BJP's late matriarch Vijaya Raje Scindia. Her other daughter, Yashodhara, remains a minister in the BJP government in Madha Pradesh.

Political dynasticism is not unique to the Congress. Even within the Grand Old Party, there are dynasts in almost every state. There is also virtually no state where the phenomenon of political dynasties is absent. With Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah ranged against each other in Jammu and Kashmir and the state of Tamil Nadu witnessing dynasts in Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Katchi, the proverbial Kashmir-to-Kanya Kumari line is dotted with political dynasts.

Currently, the BJP is dependent on several allies that are led by dynasts. In Punjab, Sukhbir Badal has long taken absolute control of the Shiromani Akali Dal. Despite the awkward relationship with the BJP, Shiv Sena still remains a partner in the union government and Uddhav Thackeray cemented his position despite being a late entrant in politics purely because the son prevailed over the nephew.

In Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party remains a significant ally and dynast Chirag Paswan is being groomed for eventual takeover. Anurag Thakur in Himachal Pradesh and son of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is another dynast, although the father-son duo is currently on the downswing. Even in Modi's home state, Jayesh Radadiya, who is the son of Lok Sabha member Vitthalbhai Radadiya, is a minister in the BJP government.

In Meghalaya too, the BJP is a partner in a government headed by dynast Conrad Sangma. N Chandrababu Naidu, who recently quit the National Democratic Alliance in a huff, too, can be considered a dynast as his rise in politics initially was greatly due to father-in-law NT Rama Rao, although they were estranged later and Naidu rebelled to chalk his own path. In Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh too, the BJP admitted the siblings, Vijay Bahuguna and Rita Bahuguna Joshi, children of Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna.

Barring the odd one in a state or two, almost every regional party has the dynastic principle determining successions. Many of them were in fact carved out of bigger parties because the patriarch wished to establish a family 'political enterprise' in a country where politics is a profession and mainstay.

Yet, BJP leaders are continuing to claim that the party's four years of rule at the Centre has wrecked dynasticism by citing the number of states where the Congress has lost power and there is no knowing when statements like Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu saying "dynasty is nasty but tasty to some people" are recycled by other leaders.

So far, the Congress has been defensive on the charge of dynasts being the pivot of the party but with its new-found aggression, there is no knowing when this line of attack begins ricocheting on the BJP. The truth is that almost every political party, barring communists and other ideologically driven ones, have cultivated dynasties.

It must be mentioned that the Jana Sangh initially did not witness the spectre of dynasticism. This was true about the BJP also as long as it remained a marginal party. But once it expanded, inducting people outside the tight ideological fold, it began inducting sons and daughters of senior leaders.

Perhaps the most notable instance of a father following the son's path is Piyush Goyal, who succeeded his father as treasurer. There are several others like Jayant Sinha, Poonam Mahajan and Pankaja Munde who followed their fathers into the party. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has 'families' right at the top of the hierarchy.

Dynasticism has been prevalent in Indian politics from the first Lok Sabha when, according to an ongoing study by Romain Carlevan, a doctoral scholar in Hong Kong University, almost 10 percent of MPs from north India were scions of princely states, then the biggest source of dynasticism besides of course instances like Jawaharlal Nehru.

Since then, the number of dynasts has increased in Parliament but the growth has not been "linear and uninterrupted: significantly, the number of heirs in Lok Sabha declined sharply both in 1977 and 1989".

Writer, Patrick French and political scientist Kanchan Chandra, too, have researched the subject and reached similar conclusions: dynasticism in Indian politics is neither of recent origin nor restricted to any particular party.

In the fifteenth Lok Sabha, 30 percent of members followed a family member into the House. This was reduced somewhat in the present House although this number, at 22 percent, still remains significantly high for it means almost every fifth MP is a politician descendant. Significantly, the BJP accounts for 44.4 percent of all heirs elected to Lok Sabha in 2014, a fact which raises questions on the party's claim of eliminating dynasties.

Importantly, 'connections' play a vital role in Indian society, politics included, and this is evident in the continuing emergence of new political families, Hukum Singh's for instance if Mriganka Singh continues in politics and rises within the BJP.

Modi's and his party leaders' attempts to delegitimise the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi politics has paid dividends so far. But, there is no knowing if, with the growing universalisation of political dynasties, this line of campaigning will stop bearing fruit.


Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 18:12 PM

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