Is dynasty there to stay in India?

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By Pratigyan Das 

The Gandhi scion, heir apparent of the grand old party of India will take over the mantle of the party very soon. The elevation of Rahul Gandhi as Congress party chief is yet another case of triumph of dynastic rule in the world’s largest democracy. Though Mr Gandhi has been humble enough to suggest that anyone in the party is free to contest the election for the President’s post, it’s a known fact, and a veteran leader and Gandhi loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyer has pointed out, the post is not vacant for any other leaders, except the mother and son, obviously alluding to their ‘Gandhi’ surname.

Well, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Congress is synonymous with dynasty- one family (read the Nehru- Gandhis) has been ruling the party since independence. No wonder, in one of his addresses during his recent US visit, Rahul defended dynasty rule, describing it as an accepted reality and claiming that India “runs like this only”. He cited the examples of Akhilesh Yadav (son of Mulayam Singh Yadav of SP), MK Stalin (son of Karunanidhi of DMK), Abhishek Bachchan (son of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan) and Mukesh and Anil Ambani (sons of Dhirubhai Ambani).

That’s how the entire country is running; don’t just go after me, the Gandhi scion added. Though his comments didn’t go well with the opposition- Union minister Smriti Irani called him a ‘failed dynast’, BJP president went a step ahead- claiming that his party has ended the dynasty rule in India. But for once he was actually right- factually.

It’s ironical that the world’s largest democracy is run by parties that are still run by families. But then the question arises: Why do dynasties flourish in India? The answer lies in the pages of our history. Dynastic rule has been the hallmark of Indian politics since ages. From the Mauryas, Guptas to the Lodhis, Mughals, et al, the Indian political system followed monarchy- a particular family ruled Indians.

This trend continued even during the colonial regime. In other words, it hasn’t been uncommon for a common Indian to be ruled by a particular family. Ironically, dynasty continued to dominate even after India was transformed from a monarchy to democracy, thanks to the larger than life charisma of a particular family.

After independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the architects of India’s freedom movement, became the first prime minister of the country. The political ambitions of Nehru coupled with the lack of an opposition matching the stature of Nehru and widespread illiteracy (various data suggests the literacy rate was mere 12% at the end of British rule in 1947) laid the foundation of political dynasties in the modern political system of the country.

Moreover, there was no alternative to Nehru (The famous book ‘After Nehru, Who’ is a case in point). Politically- ambitious Nehru, who had a different aura among the countrymen, including among his own party, took full advantage of the prevailing situation and groomed Indira, his daughter, to take over the reins. Indira’s surname ‘Gandhi’ owing to her marriage to Feroze Gandhi, was an added bonus for the newly- independent country- for most of the Indians, the surname Gandhi was the only criterion needed to rule India.

It is believed that many Indians, especially in rural areas, believed that Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. The successive win of the Congress party under Nehru and later with his daughter Indira Gandhi convinced the party men that their fate is secured only with the Gandhis. No other party men could match the stature of the Gandhis and any opposition was crushed very sophistically- either by dismissing them from party or sidelining them. It gave rise to dynastic rule in other political parties, in other words, a family affair in most parties.

From the Yadavs to the Abdullahs and Karunanidhis, everyone took a cue from the Gandhis and made politics a family business. Most important, the common man had no problems in accepting one family as their ‘maibaap’ till a brief storm in the late 70s gave a jolt to family politics and India got an alternative to the Gandhis. But the failure of the rift-ridden opposition (the disunited opposition failed to grab the opportunity to rule despite a huge mandate) convinced the aam-admi and the Congress that there is no alternative to the Gandhis. Moreover, the future of Karunanidhis, Thackerays and Yadavs, looked bright too.

To be fair to our politicians, the dynasty is not confined to politics. As Rahul Gandhi pointed out, it is ingrained in other sectors as well. A recent report by Credit Suisse Research Institute (CSRI) suggests that India has 108 publicly-listed family-owned businesses, third highest in the world. Besides, according to Credit Suisse, the financial performance of family-owned companies is also superior to that of non- family-owned peers. It is the same with the film industry. So much so that many a time, it has been criticized for promoting nepotism. The recent spat between Karan Johar and Kangana Ranaut is a case in point.

So, does that indicate dynasty is there to stay in India? Well, it would be wrong to assume that dynasty will always flourish in India. Indian democracy has come of age. People have become mature. No longer are they dependent on one family. (It’s a different matter though that some political parties continue to rely on family fiefdom). Had that been the case, Congress wouldn’t have been struggling to find its feet in national politics.

It’s no secret that the fortunes reached a dead end, thanks to its over-dependence on one family. Same goes for the Lalus, Mulayam, Karunanidhis and Abdullahs. The story is repeated in business and other sectors as well. In fact, the trend started in the 1990s with the onset of economic liberalisation. Startups, the advent of social media, exposure to the world, coupled with growth in literacy rate have changed the rules of the game. Netizens and citizens have become wiser… it’s hardly surprising a chaiwala managed to take over as the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy. It is the same with the film industry where actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Akshay Kumar have made it BIG without any family connection. In sports, the Kohlis, Dhonis and Dhawans made it without a mentor.

So, while family connection may give you easy entry, it will not guarantee success… The rules have changed.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Source: Times of India (blog)

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