An inheritable malaise

Blind support to dynastic politics afflicts us all and underestimates not only democratic citizenship but also accountability.

Many of us were certain that the hyperbolic campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections against dynastic politics by propelling the image of Narendra Modi as ‘chaiwala’ against Rahul Gandhi’s as ‘shahzada’ was nothing but a cultivated farce.

The double standard was very much reflected in its methodical campaign when the party targeted the Nehru-Gandhi family in general and the Yadav family in Uttar Pradesh while sparing the Badals in Punjab, the Thackerays in Maharashtra and the Muftis in Jammu and Kashmir.

However, the image of the BJP as an anti-dynastic party finally burst like a pricked balloon when we noted the kith and kin of top party leaders in the candidate lists released for the 2017 Assembly elections in UP. While ignoring tactfully the symbolic call of Modi not to exert pressure on the party leadership for tickets to their kin, the BJP has allowed it to grow within itself by giving tickets to Pankaj Singh (son of Rajnath Singh); Sandeep Singh (grandson of Kalyan Singh); Mriganka (daughter of Hukum Singh); Ashutosh Tandon ‘Gopalji’ (son of Lalji Tandon); Jaidevi (wife of Kaushal Kishore); Utkarsh (son of Swami Prasad Maurya); and so on.

Is this ethical or moral? Perhaps not. The instant justification of the party with the spurious logic of ‘winnability’, the years of ‘dedication to the cause of party’ and ‘service to the respective constituencies’ are reflections of what Reinhold Niebuhr argued in his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society: “The will to power uses reason as kings used courtiers and chaplains to add grace to their enterprise.”

In all probability, the flamboyant expression of dynastic induction in the BJP is to cement the faultlines emerging within the party. It cannot afford any major dissensions and revolt against the interests of top party leaders. Nonetheless, it will still prove disadvantageous to the BJP which has lost its own precious poll issue. The allegations of inducting multiple dynasties in UP and the hardships created by the unplanned demonetisation are an effective poll propaganda for BJP’s rival parties to script an electoral backlash. Will Modi be able to mock the dynasties the way he did in 2014 in his rhetorical tone, “the Congress is a party of mother and son, Samajwadi Party of father and son and RashtriyaJanta Dal of a husband-wife, JMM is a father and son party?”
Undoubtedly, dynastic politics is not a quaint historical footnote rendered irrelevant by modern education and improved mass media. In fact, people have been consistently proving themselves enthusiastic supporters of family demagogues in politics. Blind support to dynastic politics afflicts us all as it fundamentally underestimates the limitations of not only democratic citizenship but also the cherished ideal of democratic accountability.

The irony of the first-past-the-post system is that it easily blindfolds the electorate by the mere glamorous appeal of political parties to provide responsive and accountable government, which is nothing but a cover for those who profit from policy distortions once election results are declared in their favour. In other words, the Indian electorate is not ready to discredit the political fiefdom despite its failings in the prime function of promoting social good, in the name of which the members historically enjoyed their privileges.

It certainly seems reasonable to argue that the entire political lineage of India is both elitist and dynastic. Categorically, Indian politics from north to south and from Panchayat to Parliament is being shaped, re-shaped and defined by the competitive dynastic system. It is not a loose conjecture that the Indian electorate neither ever experienced mature democratic elections and party politics nor popular participation in the real sense of the term.

The folk theory of democracy rem­ained alien to our country. What we have seen is the entrenchment of dynastic system after every electoral outcome in the country. Notably, India has seen three patterns of dynastic system in the last seven decades: one dynasty dominant system; bi-dynasty dominant system; and multi-dynasty dominant system.

Systems of dominance
For long, India was subjected to one dynasty dominant system, firstly with the initiation of Nehru-Gandhi family into Indian politics, and later with its proliferation in many states, through the Yadavs in UP and Bihar; Badals in Punjab; Pawars in Maharashtra; Sheikhs in Jammu and Kashmir; Karunanidhi family in Tamil Nadu; Naidus in AP; Patnaiks in Odisha; Chautalas in Haryana; Sorens in Jharkhand; Scindias in MP; and so on.

This transformed into the second phase when the privileges of one dynasty dominant system was challenged by the rival dynasty, thus turning the politics of states into bi-dominant dynasty system as reflected in Pawars v Thackerays in Maharashtra; Shaikhs v Muftis in Jammu and Kashmir; Yadavs v Paswans in Bihar; Yadavs v Jats in Uttar Pradesh and so on.

The third phase is marked with the rise of multiple elite families in politics in almost all regions and states, making electoral politics more competitive. This can be seen in the rise of the Botsas, Reddys, Mishras, Shuklas, Gogois, Mirdhas, Tripathis, Adhikaris, Kohlis, Bhadanas, Gadhvis, Makens, Dikshits, Deoras, Patels, Naiks, Sayeeds, Bahugunas, Wasniks, Shekhawats, Mauryas and so on.

The politics of India revolves around certain chosen dynasties who are largely responsible for defining the political parties as merely a union of families for whom politics is nothing but inheritable. The ultimate outcomes of this growing malaise of dynastic politics are, first, the political belief systems of parties are fast becoming exceptionally thin, principally disoriented and ideologically incoherent. Second, the unchecked rise of dynasties is a poor reflection of the fact that the Indian electorate lacks the ability for self-government. It requires a political ‘dynast’ despite having the power to vote.

Have voters not failed consistently to perform the role that the folk theory of democracy seemed to require? To put it differently, for how long will the Indian electorate be swayed by political loyalties to dynastic parties typically acquired in childhood?
(The writer is Associate Professor and Head, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University [MANUU], Hyderabad)

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