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

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is on its last legs. Do Rahul and Priyanka have the wisdom to realise this and take the right message from the UP disaster?

R Jagannathan March 07, 2012 12:02:03 IST
The Dynasty is over; Go on Rahul, get a Real Life

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 Dynasty is over Go on Rahul get a Real Life

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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And if she had done so, we would not have a Rahul Gandhi (another incompetent politician, as the UP elections show) trying to take over the Congress after Sonia. We now have the media discussing a post-Rahul Congress, where there is a Priyanka to pick up the threads. If pretty faces made for good leaders, maybe Aishwarya Rai should enter politics.

Congressmen are living in a fool’s paradise. In fact, they are doing themselves an injustice by giving the Dynasty so much importance when it is they who are investing the Dynasty with the aura and the authority they claim they are deriving from it.

Uttar Pradesh should come as one more eye-opener to Congress sycophants that this Dynasty has far outlived its utility to the country, the party, or even to them.

Here are five reasons why:

Dynasties that continue endlessly deter talent. A little dynasty may be good, but too much of it works against everyone’s interests. The problem in dynasties is that talent faces a glass ceiling. In short, the leadership pool is a mere puddle restricted to a few family members. As long as this puddle is healthy, the Dynasty prospers. Once we end up with a dud or two, the business suffers. In Sonia and Rahul and Priyanka we have three dud leaders. The Dynasty cannot survive their incompetence.

Dynasties attract incompetents and sycophants more than talent and initiative. The coronation of Sonia as Queen of Congress did not happen because of her innate leadership talents, but because Congress is the last refuge of mediocrities and hangers-on. The competent do their own thing, and don’t like to kowtow to mediocrity. But mediocrity loves Dynasty – since the only qualities required to succeed are flattery and intrigue, both common enough talents available in India.

When these are the qualities needed, why would the genuinely gifted – those who will help the party rise to greater heights – want to stay there? Can the Congress name on all-India leader who can replace a Sonia Gandhi? (Answer: there are names, but no Congressman will name them)

Dynasties are feudal and retrograde. They can preserve their aura only by pretending to be omnipotent, benevolent. In the political context, they feed of the poor and gullible while pretending the feed the poor. When royalty ruled the world, the King or Queen had to show omnipotence and benevolence by an occasional show of great charity. Thus a King would gift a courier who brings in good news by handing him a gold chain – and the story would be told and retold a thousand times on the grapevine to give the poor hope that they too will get their chain of gold if they get lucky.

Dynasties that are on their last legs behave like feudals. This is why while a Nehru had no use for a Food Security Bill or caste and religion-based quotas, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi need them badly: it is the only way they can retain their feudal hold. A Vajpayee is able to create real jobs (92 million between 1999 and 2004) merely by running a government, but a UPA creates all of 2 million in the next five years despite running a job-creating NREGA scheme.

Dynasties fail because they stay insulated from reality. When you are surrounded by retainers and time-servers who will only tell you want you want to hear, you cannot listen to what the UP electorate is really saying. You land up in a Dalit basti for a photo-op, mistaking it for the real thing. An Akhilesh Yadav, who is not separated from his people, is able to make development his theme-song and trundles along on his cycle for a year giving this message and receiving the people’s feedback. A Rahul Gandhi, with his Z category security and walled thinking, has to meet the people under cover of darkness, and in highly artificial circumstances. And the Rahul Gandhis have their Digvijaya Singhs promising them they have made a huge impact – when they may not have generated anything more than curiosity value.

Dynasts never seem to know when to quit or say “no thanks”. Rajiv Gandhi should have been the last Nehru-Gandhi Dynast. But Sonia Gandhi felt compelled to enter the hurly-burly of politics since she must have been told by sycophants that the party needs you. A child may need parenting, but a mature adult is quite capable of handling herself. After all, in 1991, the Congress – even with its dubious selection process – produced a non-charismatic, non-Gandhi PM who changed the course of India’s economy destiny. Even Indira Gandhi could not do that. If Nehru and Gandhi brought India political freedom, Narasimha Rao brought India true economic freedom. Not Sonia or Rahul.

But soon after the Congress lost the 1996 elections, Sonia Gandhi did not find the courage to say, no thanks. And Rahul Gandhi, who too does not have it in him to say no, is soldiering on in a profession he does not quite relish.

The greatest service Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi can do for India is to retire into private life. The Congress will flower after them, once the family’s glass ceiling is removed.

In fact, one of the main reasons why the Congress is growing weaker by the day is its inability to produce strong regional leaders. This is why it is irrelevant in UP. Or Gujarat. Or Bihar. Or anywhere.

To make the Congress relevant, the Dynasty must opt out. Go on, Rahul, get a life. And take Priyanka with you. You will do yourself and the party a favour.

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