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India’s Political Dynasties

Updated: January 7, 2012 3:34 pm

A huge shift is taking place in India’s political landscape, and that is the emergence of dynastic politics. If public perception, as reflected in the Indian media and coffeehouse talk, is anything to go by, nothing can prevent Rahul Gandhi—son of India’s late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi, arguably the most powerful Indian prime minister, and great grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister—from becoming India’s next prime minister.

In fact, many believe that he is already the country’s de facto prime minister. His words are the law of the land. Senior ministers and civil servants give more weight to what Rahul Gandhi says and does than what is said and done by the de jure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. More often than not, Singh and his government follow what Rahul Gandhi dictates.

If anything, the development underscores the importance of the Gandhi-Nehru family in Indian politics. As it is, Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi has already created history. She has been the head of the party since April 1998. This has been the longest tenure on the part of any President of the Congress, which turned 125 year-old last year. In fact, in October 2010, she was re-elected for the record fourth term as the president of the party. The venerated Nehru-Gandhi family has four members in Parliament today—the mother-son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi of the ruling Congress Party and the mother-son duo of Maneka and Varun Gandhi belonging to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Maneka Gandhi is the widow of Indira Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay Gandhi.

Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi is acutely aware of the contribution of the family name to his evolution as a political leader. On many an occasion, particularly during electioneering, he has promised to ensure that his Congress party would develop a new culture in which talent and qualification, rather than inheritance, would factor in getting party posts and governmental positions. But ironically, Rahul Gandhi, who also happens to be one of the general secretaries of the party and in charge of the Youth Congress, the so-called youth wing of the party, “appointed” last year (2010) Rajiv Satav as the new President of the Indian Youth Congress. A lawyer by training, Satav is the son of Rajni Satav, a former Minister and Maharashtra Women’s Commission chairperson. He got into politics because of his mother’s influence, which even reportedly worked to get him a ticket. Last year, Satav fought and won Assembly election from Kalamnuri constituency in Hingoli district of Maharashtra.

In fact, the Congress-led government at the Centre has ministers who are essentially there primarily because of their family legacies: Milind Deora, Jyotiraraditya Scindia, GK Vasan, Sachin Pilot (all Congress), MK Azhagiri, Dayanidhi Maran (belonging to DMK, ally of Congress) and Agatha Sangma, the 29-year old and the youngest Indian minister, daughter of the former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma (Nationalist Congress Party, another Congress ally). Even the Speaker of the Indian Lok Sabha—the House of People—Ms Meira Kumar is the daughter of late Jagjivan Ram, one of the tallest dalit leaders of India who remained in every Indian cabinet as a senior member from 1945(interim government) till 1980.

It is not that the family- legacy has played an important role for only Congress leaders to enter the Indian parliament. This trend is visible in other parties too. With the possible exception of the Communists parties, almost all the political parties of India have promoted or tolerated the family-cult in distribution of the party tickets both to the national and state legislatures. For instance, the first impression that one gets by looking into the composition of the present 15th Lok Sabha (lower House of Parliament) is a positive one in the sense that out of 543 elected members, there are now 81 members who are 40- years old or younger (although the average age of MPs remains stubbornly high at 53, despite nearly 60 per cent of the Indian population being under 35). The present Lok Sabha has also an unprecedented 59 women MPs. But under closer scrutiny, it is revealed that of the 81 young lawmakers elected this time, 50 came from political families, with 33 of the 50 MPs following in their fathers’ footsteps into politics. Meanwhile, of the 59 women representatives, almost two-thirds have close male relatives who are politicians. In fact, according to Patrick French, the author of The Princely State Of India, as many as 156 members of the current 15th Lok Sabha come from the known political families. In total, 28.6 per cent of MPs have had a hereditary connection.

Equally important is the fact that the phenomenon is not limited to national politics. It is also deeply rooted at the state level. The list of blood relatives of successful and resourceful former state chief ministers becoming chief ministers is growing: Biju Patnaik-Naveen Patnaik, Sheikh Abdullah-Farooq Abdullah-Omar Abdullah, S.B. Chavan-Ashok Chavan, M.G. Ramachandran-Janaki Ramachandran, Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi, Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy, Ravi Shankar Shukla-Shyama Charan Shukla, Devi Lal-Om Prakash Chautala and N.T. Rama Rao-Chandrababu Naidu are some leading examples. In fact, the present Congress Chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, who left his post in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet at the Centre and took his present assignment to refurbish the party image in the wake of the Adarash- Housing scam, enjoys a unique family tradition:- in the history of Indian Parliament – he was the third member of his family to have found a berth in Parliament uninterruptedly for over four decades, a distinction probably surpassed only by the Gandhi-Nehru family. His father, former union Deputy Minister for Defence and Law Dajisaheb Chavan was an M.P. for 16 years and later, Prithiviraj’s mother, Premalabai Chavan, was also an MP for 17 years. Chavan himself was a Member of Parliament for more than 10 years.

One is also aware of the likes of Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir, Akhilesh Yadav and Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh, K. Muraleedharan in Kerala, Kuldip Bishnoi in Haryana, Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab and Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, who are focused on emulating their fathers in becoming Chief Ministers of their respective states. In fact, the junior Badal is already the Deputy Chief Minister. Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has already revealed his “will” that his son Stalin, now an important minister, will succeed him. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray has recently anointed his grandson Aditya Thackeray as the head of newly formed youth wing of the Shiv Sena, Yuva Sena. And in Bihar, former Chief minister Lalu Prasad, whose wife Rabri Devi was also a Chief Minister, had roped in his cricketer son Tejaswi Yadav in politics, just on the eve of the Assembly elections in the state.

In this year’s elections in Assam, the Congress fielded 18 candidates having a family lineage in politics. Two among them were given party nominations for the first time: Deabrata Saikia, son of former chief minister Hiteswar Saikia, and Sushmita Deb, daughter of former Union Minister Santosh Mohan Deb. In West Bengal, even Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who had long kept his children away from the political limelight, pushed the Congress party to nominate his son Avijit Mukherjee to contest the Assembly polls. He has won.

Patrick French’s following findings are quite significant. What percentage of a party’s MPs had reached the Lok Sabha through a family link—excluding parties with fewer than five MPs? The answer:

  • RLD 100 per cent (5 out of 5)
  • NCP 77.8 per cent (7 out of 9)
  • BJD 42.9 per cent (6 out of 14)
  • INC 37.5 per cent (78 out of 208)
  • BSP 33.3 per cent (7 out of 21)
  • DMK 33.3 per cent (6 out of 18)
  • SP 27.3 per cent (6 out of 22)
  • CPI(M) 25 per cent (4 out of 16)
  • JD(U) 20 per cent (4 out of 20)
  • BJP 19 per cent (22 out of 116)
  • AITC 15.8 per cent (3 out of 19)
  • Shiv Sena 9.1 per cent (1 out of 11)
  • AIADMK 0 per cent (0 out of 9)
  • TDP 0 per cent (0 out of 6)

Incidentally, the above list is illustrative, not exhaustive. It would be instructive to do a detailed study of the dynastic succession as far as “ordinary” members of the Legislative Assembly and the Parliament are concerned. The study needs resources and time. However, it can be safely guessed that the phenomenon of political dynasties in India is assuming serious proportions. India has many more political dynasties today than it had in the past. Taken together, there might be at least 1,000 to 1,500 political families in India that have successfully promoted dynastic successions at various levels, national or provincial.

The second point that emerges from the above list is that almost all the important regional parties are essentially family-affairs. It is the concerned families, rather than the cadres, that determine all the party-activities. Given the fact that it is the era of coalitions in India, a trend that is likely to continue in foreseeable future, these family-driven regional parties will continue to play important roles in Indian politics. In other words, India is going to be politically controlled by 1000 to 1500 families, though not necessarily all of them will be equal importance. Some families will be directly in charge, others being their allies.

Political dynasties exist in other countries, including advanced democracies, as well. In Britain, the mother of democracies, we have the 18th century phenomenon of William Pitt the Younger, who, in 1783 at the age of 24, became the youngest prime minister. He was known as “the Younger” to distinguish him from his father, William Pitt the Elder, who previously served as Prime Minister On rare occasions, the nepotism information shortcut pays off. Similarly, it is believed that Winston Churchill was first elected to Parliament in large part because voters associated him with his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, a popular Conservative politician of the 1880s. It is also noteworthy that Harold Macmillan’s cabinet in the 50’s had 11 members who were related to each other.

Talking of the Unites States, a USA TODAY survey said that in the recently held mid-tem elections(2010), more than two dozen running for governor and Congress who are related to former or past officeholders. That included “Tea Party” favorite Rand Paul, Kentucky’s Republican Senate nominee and the son of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a 22-year congressional veteran who has run for president as a Libertarian and as a Republican.

Three sons of former governors, Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York, Terry Goddard in Arizona and Jerry Brown in California, ran for their fathers’ old jobs. The progeny of two prominent Republicans, the late president Richard Nixon and former vice president Dan Quayle, also sought election to the House.

In fact, since the US Congress began meeting in 1789, 400 parent-child duos have served in the House and Senate, along with 190 pairs of siblings, according to data compiled by House and Senate historians. The percentage of “legacy lawmakers” reached its highest point in 1848, when more than 16% of Congress had been preceded in office by a relative, according to Pedro Dal Bo, a Brown University economist who has co-authored a paper last year on American political dynasties.

Forty-five percent of the members of the first U.S. Congress had relatives enter Congress after them, compared with a still-high follow rate of about 10 percent now, says Pedro Dal Bo. The numbers have declined since, but the kinship caucus in the last Congress was substantial: 22 House members and five senators were children of former members of Congress. And as is the case in India, the phenomenon crosses party lines. The evidence is too evident: the Gores, the Murkowskis, the Rockefellers, the Bakers, the Doles, the Bonos, the Meekses, the Dodds, the Tsongases, the Chafees. Speaker of the last House Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to hold the position, is the daughter of former congressman Thomas D’Alesandro Jr.

“Some families are very good at politics. Perhaps it is a family trait,” Dal Bó says, adding, “being in power makes it more likely you will have descendants in power. Being in Congress facilitates your relatives’ entrance to Congress. Power begets power.” Stephen Hess, a historian at the Brookings Institution and author of the 1966 book “America’s Political Dynasties,” says that that there have been 700 families with two or more members of Congress, and they account for 1,700 of the 10,000 men and women who have served in the House and Senate.

At the Presidential level in the US, the phenomenon is equally evident. John Quincy Adams, the country’s sixth president, was the son of the second, John Adams. Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President was the grandson of William Henry Harrison, the 9th President. Then we have the saga of the Roosevelts. The 26th President Theodore Roosevelt was not exactly a close relative of the 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Theodore was Franklin’s fifth cousin. They belonged to two different parties, though they reached the white House in a similar manner. Theodore served in the state legislature, was governor of New York, assistant secretary of the Navy and president—and Franklin pursued the exact same path to the White House. He even married Theodore’s favorite niece, Eleanor, whom Theodore gave away at the marriage ceremony. In fact, if Jean Edward Smith, a historian at Marshall University is to be believed, Theodore encouraged Franklin to enter politics, “though he lamented that he was a Democrat instead of a Republican”.

Be that as it may, we did not see another Roosvelt in the White House, even though after FDR, the political lineage did not exactly end. Rather it first diminished and then withered. Two sons of FDR went into Congress, as Democrats representing New York and California. The latest evidence of the same family occupying Presidency has been that of Bushes. George W. Bush (43rd President) got elected as president eight years after his father (41st President) left the White House.

The list of South Asian countries with governments headed by the offspring or spouses of former leaders is striking, in deed. The sub-continent has proved the most fertile ground for political dynasties. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal all have a resilient tradition of electing dynasties to the top office. Take Nepal, for instance. After the massacre of the entire royal family, the then king’s brother took over the reign. Prime Minister GP Koirala’s two other brothers were Prime Ministers as well—the only instance of three brothers serving in such high elective office. Sri Lanka started its tradition in 1960 when Prime Minister Solomon Bandranaike’s widow, Sirimavo Bandranaike, became prime minister. Her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, later became President. Bangladesh has been witnessing the political battles between two iron-willed women, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of President Mujibur Rahman, and Khaleda Zia, widow of President Ziaur Rahman. And Pakistan has Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, herself the daughter of the executed former leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In fact, Benazir herself had assumed political role after the “judicial” murder of her father Z A Bhutto in 1977.

Now, what accounts for the perpetuation of these familiar last names through the decades? A US Congressional study has found that legislators who enjoy longer tenures are significantly more likely to have relatives entering Congress later. A longer period in power increases the chance that a person may start (or continue) a political dynasty. Therefore, dynastic political power is self-perpetuating in that a positive exogenous shock to a person’s political power has persistent effects through posterior dynastic attainment. In politics, power begets power.

That said, the fact, however, remains that the dynastic trend in American politics, of late, has declined, particularly since 1960s, the decade dominated by the Kennedy phenomenon. It had reached a perfect storm in 1962, when Massachusetts voters elected Edward Moore Kennedy to fill the Senate seat vacated by John F Kennedy, grandson of Congressman and Mayor John F Fitzgerald and son of Ambassador Joseph P Kennedy, when he was elected President. Incidentally, this seat was wrested in 1952 by J.F.K. from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr, who was a great-great-great-grandson of Senator George Cabot and grandson of the Senate titan Henry Cabot Lodge.

Other than the duration of tenure, there are some interesting theories why Americans have supported some known dynasties. The standard one is that since the American voter has neither the time nor the incentive to find out a candidate’s ideology and issue positions, he or she finds it easy to go by the candidate’s “branding”. Another is the so-called small-pool theory which is that in the earlier years of the Republic, the Americans had fewer worthies to choose from. “You have this narrow set of aristocratic families—the draw was minuscule—this narrow set of educated people who had the time and leisure to engage in politics in a young country where most people were just trying to feed themselves,” says Edward Renehan Jr, historian and author of “The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War.”

This was partly true of John Adams. He may not have been a great President, but as David McCullough, author of “John Adams” says, “The children and grandchildren of the Adams family were raised with the idea that public service was expected of you. John Adams, he never ignored the call to duty. To his financial detriment, with a threat of his life, to his marriage….He is the only president who, after serving as president, went back to serving in the House of Representatives, which has never happened before or since, where he was battling slavery day after day after day, as an old man, tired, put upon. They called him ‘Old Man Eloquence.’ But what he said mattered. He died there. He died with his boots on.”

As for politics as family affair, David Kennedy, Stanford historian and co-author of the popular high school textbook “The American Pageant,” argues that the founders of American constitution “were not wild believers in all-out democracy. They were quite wary of what we know of as democracy now. They rejected the monarch. But they also believed in the rule of the best men. The electoral college is a vestige of that, and so is the Senate,” two institutions devised to restrain unbridled democracy.

But then, as has been pointed out, the dynastic trend cannot be said to have a dominating impact on American politics. As Hess says, American political dynasties have been mercurial and fluid. Many of the founding families played their roles and then departed the stage. George Washington had no children of his own. There was no long line of Jeffersons or Madisons or Lincolns clamouring for public office. “It’s not as if the families stay too long,” Hess says. “Oh, maybe there’s a Kennedy who stayed too long, but by and large, they left the scene gracefully. If you look at history through a long enough lens, what happens is that they either lose interest in us, or we lose interest in them, and they fade away.” Obviously, in a nation of 300 million citizens, the small pool theory no longer applies.

And yet, if some dynasties do exist, it is being explained in terms of their access to networks of fundraisers, particularly when one sees the rising cost of elections. Campaign finance authority Herbert Alexander has estimated that $540 million was spent on all elections in the US in 1976, rising to $3.9 billion in 2000. These towering financial barriers to entry might also explain the persistence of political dynasties, whose brimming campaign war chests ensure sufficient ammunition for a well-funded election run. That is one explanation. An appetite for power may be another. These two factors could also explain the number of political dynasties in Japan.

But more than these two, as Peter Oborne in his book “The Triumph of the Political Class”, points out , there is now a new trend in the developed countries to make politics a career by a penumbra of quasi-political institutions—think-tanks, consultancies, lobbying firms, politicians’ back offices. They have increased job opportunities for would-be politicians. Increasingly, therefore, the road to a political career leads through politics itself, starting as an intern, moving to become researcher in a parliamentary or congressional office, with a spell in a friendly think-tank or lobby group along the way. And here, those who have learnt political skills at their parents’ knee enjoy an added advantage.

Talking of the developing and newly independent countries, dynastic politics seems to be a more complicated phenomenon. Most of these dynasties trace themselves to the post-1945 political transformation. These families had played an important role in the independence struggle and work as glue for parties, an identity substitute in countries that used to be run by kings, sultans and foreigners. Besides, if in the process of leading the country, the chief of a family gets killed, his children exploit his or her martyr status. President Aquino’s father, a former senator and leading opposition figure, was assassinated upon his return from exile. His wife Corazon in effect succeeded him and won the presidential election of 1986. Similarly Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was assassinated in 1959 and his wife Sirimavo became Prime Minister the next year.

The Zardari-Bhutto dynasty lost two of its members in violent circumstances. The Pakistani military overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto and executed him. His daughter Benazir assumed leadership of the family’s political fortunes serving as prime minister twice. Returning from exile in 2007 to contest upcoming elections she was assassinated. A second family transition came as a result of her death shortly thereafter. Her husband became President and her son became the head of her political party.

When one talks of political dynasties, it is safe to point out that compared any other country, the number of political families or dynasties in India must be the highest. It is because of the vast compass of the Indian politics and its diversity. And the factors that work behind this phenomenon are in varied degrees similar to the ones we have seen working in other parts of the world. Obviously the “martyr” factor is working with the electorate as far as the Gandhi family is concerned. This has been in line with the south Asian phenomenon, which is that either assassinations or judicial murder – Sri Lanka (1959) Bangladesh (1975) and Pakistan (1977) forms a strong basis for the so-called dynasties.

Coming back to the political families at regional level, that is at states, they are reaping advantages of being the first to succeed in power by championing the cause of a particular cause , essentially some ethnic issue. Katunanidhi family talks of the Tamil cause, Shiv Sena talk of Maratha Manus, Lalu and Mulayam talk of OBCs in their respective states, Abdullah family exploits its historic contributions in Kashmir and so on. Then there have been the likes of Biju Patnaik who drew imagination of the people of Odisha by asserting their rights which were neglected by the national level politicians. He also had charisma behind him as one of India’s finest fighter pilots and one who saved the life of Indonesian legendary leader Sukarno by air-lifting him in a filmy-style.

In other words, unlike the divide between the Tories and Labour in the UK or the Republicans and Democrats in the US that can be explained by their positions on economic and social issues, in India, apart from some exceptions, politics revolves around identities, whether it be of caste—Brahmins, Yadavs, Dalits etc; religion—Hindus and Muslims; regional identity—Marathas and non-Marathas; lingual identity—Tamils and non-Tamils etc. In such a political culture, political parties, attached to some identity or other, are often equated with the identity and the will of a few powerful personalities. Their families become established brands having a high recall value and the faithful hope to find emotional continuity with family heirs becoming political successors. For a voter used to voting on the lines of identity, a family pedigree provides legitimacy (to the candidate) and convenience (to the voter) at the time of choice.

On their part, all these families have been enjoying what could be described as first-mover advantage in the sense that they have been cementing forces of their respective constituents. If you take them away, the constituents will fall apart because of other inbuilt contradictions. Take away the Gandhi-family, the Congress, as was evident for most of the 1990s, will not remain half the force that is today. Take away Mulayam Singh Yadav or a Lalu Prasad Yadav or an Abdullah, their respective parties will simply cripple.

India’s political dynasts have a point (and this has been pointed out on many an occasion by the likes of Lalu, Mulayam, Prakash Singh Badal and their myriad supporters) that there nothing wrong if their children enter “daddy’s business”. If a Professor’s son becomes a professor, a doctor’s son becomes a doctor and an actor’s son becomes an actor, then what there is nothing wrong with a politician’s child opting for politics as a career, so runs the argument.

The small-pool theory has also relevance in India. Considering the size of Indian electorate, not enough good people are entering politics. We do not see too many professionals dominating Indian politics the way lawyers in the United States, Germany and France; businessmen in Italy; academics in Egypt; civil servants in South Korea and Russia; engineers in China; and doctors in Brazil do. In fact, in a fascinating survey The Economist magazine has pointed out how in France, nine of Nicolas Sarkozy’s first cabinet of 16 were lawyers or law graduates, including the President, the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, an ex-chairman of Baker & McKenzie, an American law firm. Of course, different countries because of their history, or cultural preferences, or stage of development—seem to like particular qualities, and these qualities are provided disproportionately by only a few professions. But the point here is that when no professional class or a group of them dominates the Indian politics, the entire field has become the monopoly of a small number of career- politicians, and this, in turn, has promoted the family-cults.

India’s political dynasts have been also benefited by the ever-rising costs involved in succeeding in politics. A political career requires enormous start up outlays. Although there are laws which limit spending by candidates, in practice it is often found that the actual costs to contest and campaign for election to a seat is very high. Further, despite substantial investments, the returns are unpredictable, risky and more importantly, uniquely binary. Either you win or you lose. A candidate’s loss by the narrowest of margins is as much a loss as everyone else in the fray. Only those who can afford to lose the time and money and have the requisite resources find an entry into what is often an exclusive if not a closed club, are able to afford this profession. Political lineage helps facilitate this entry in two ways. First, a person having family lineage needs lesser money in political campaigns compared to others. Secondly, established political families in India are also among the India’s richest, the wealth generated being facilitated through long political power, given India’s politics of patronage that has been sustained initially by license-permit raj and then by politician-businessman-criminal nexus. In fact, one of the motivating factors for a son or daughter following his or her political parent is to ensure that the purse-strings always remain within the family. That is why one invariably sees why only blood-relatives of the candidates handling the campaigns.

Are political dynasties an indicator of weak political institutions? If this question is asked to practitioners of dynastic politics and their supporters, the answer will be an emphatic “no”. After all, the family background can give an initial push , but not beyond a point. One can win an election once by taking the family name, but not the subsequent one if you do not deliver. After all, in India, as powerful a politician as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been voted out of power. And so was Rajiv Gandhi.

Viewed thus, there is no necessary incompatibility between democracy and Political dynasty. In that sense, political dynasty should not be equated with hereditary dynasties. All told, political dynasties are part of the democratic political process. In fact, it could also be argued that the supremacy of more political families instead of one or two is a healthy development over the years and that the phenomenon is a sign of growing democratisation.

However, in my opinion, both are weak arguments. Given the fact that India’s is essentially a plebiscitary democracy i.e. the people are asked to vote for the promises made by the candidates rather than the candidates, who normally should highlight the demands coming from below, it is always better to have fewer political dynasties. This is so, because here at least there is a possibility of the emergence of new dynamic leaderships with new ideas from the general masses against a dynast.

Secondly, when there are more political dynasties there is every likelihood of the electoral battles becoming predictable. Imagine what will be the scenario if in Maharashtra, elections get confined to the Chavans and Pawars on the one hand and the Thakerays on the other. What will happen to the democratic growth if Andhra politics gets reduced essentially to a battle between the NTR family and Rajsekhara Reddy family? Will the Kashmiris enjoy democracy if their choices are limited only to the families of Abdullahs and Muftis? How will the democrats all over react if in future only Rahul Gandhi and Varun Gandhi vie for India’s premiership?

Dynastic politics is bad because it limits our choices. If strengthened, it will disconnect the politicians from the people. It will ban the outsiders from entering politics and by and by democracy will turn into some kind of feudalism. It will mean that lesser-qualified people, by virtue of name recognition, get voted into office. It will stifle innovation and new ideas. It will promote, instead, divisive politics built around patronage. It will prioritise identity over policy, divisiveness over governance, continuity over change and alienation over inclusion.

But then, one really cannot “eliminate” the phenomenon as in a democracy all, including the dynasts, have the right to contest elections. And the best way to contain is to have a suitable amendment in the Constitution to limit the ministerial positions (including that of the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers) at the Centre and States to two successive terms and prevent the immediate blood relatives of outgoing ministers for a period of at least one term of the respective legislatures from succeeding in the vacated offices. Let the worthy sons and daughters of the dynasties wait and work among the masses for five years to earn, not inherit, the popular mandate. Here, ensuring inner-party democracy through regular party elections and accountability of party funds will go a long way. Additionally, legislating rules to limit the money power in politics will also help.

 By Prakash Nanda

(The above essay is a shorter version of the article that is appearing in a forthcoming volume on Indian political parties brought out by the Centre for Public Affairs (NOIDA) and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation (Germany) and published by Oxford University Press.)

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