- Vineet Kumar
Dynamics of Dynastic Politics in India
The US is a presidential democracy, the UK has a parliamentary form of democracy and India calls herself the world's largest democracy. But the world's largest democracy has developed an Achilles heel for itself which goes by the name of 'political dynasties’. Here we'll try and look at the origin, evolution and impact of political dynasties on Indian polity.
Where It Began?
Although the Nehru-Gandhi family is attributed with the genesis of dynastic politics in our country, India has had a history of political dynasts whose roots can be traced back to thousands of years.
Around the sixth century BCE, the Indian subcontinent witnessed the rise of several 'Mahajanapadas' that were ruled by political lineages. Kuru, Panchala, Avanti, Gandhara, Magadha and other such kingdoms were ruled by political powers that followed patrilineal succession to the throne. While most Mahajanapadas were ruled by kings, oligarchies such as Ganas or Sanghas also existed. These were ruled by groups of men who shared power among themselves and took decisions collectively. Even the Ganas followed patrilineal succession to power. Both Gautam Buddha and Mahavira belonged to such Ganas.
The Kurus were a political lineage who ruled over the kingdom of Hastinapur in North India. It was this political lineage that finds its mention in the Mahabharata. Even the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas revolved around the idea of patrilineal succession to the throne of Hastinapur.
This shows that the Indian civilisation has had a history of subordination by political dynasties that dates back to more than 2600 years ago. So the value of being obedient to political dynasts is something that is deeply embedded in the Indian culture.
Why did Dynasties perpetuate in Indian polity without getting challenged?
As we've seen earlier, Indian society had experienced centuries of subordination before it got the taste of democracy in 1947. When Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964 having served as the Prime Minister for 17 years, he did not appoint Indira Gandhi as his political successor. Rather, the Congress decided to put forward the name of Lal Bahadur Shastri as Nehru's successor. It was after the mysterious death of Mr. Shastri that the Congress held an internal election between Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi and Mrs. Gandhi was elected as the supreme leader of the congress party.
An interesting point worth mentioning is that any opposition to a political dynasty at the very top of the legislative structure has failed miserably in India. After the Emergency, a new political entity under the leadership of Jai Prakash Narayan rose to prominence and defeated the Indira led Congress party in the 1977 general elections to form the government at the centre, under the leadership of Morarji Desai. But the coalition fell to pieces as it was deeply affected by inter and intra-party rivalries. The government lost its support in the parliament as a result of which the Congress party stomped its way back to power in 1980 under the leadership of the same leader who had been thrown out of power just three years ago. Further attempts to dethrone the congress party by stitching up shaky alliances such as the National Front (1989) and United Front (1996) failed in the long run.
A major reason for the acceptance of political dynasties in the country is that the general public sentiment prior to 2014 was that leaders who have a larger-than-life image and can seemingly run a one-man show can ensure political stability in the country, unlike patchy pre-poll alliances that lack organisation and suffer from internal power struggles.
How The BJP Evades The Dynasty Question, Even Though One-Third Of Its MPs Are 'Dynasts':
It's true that the Congress party introduced dynastic politics to India's parliamentary form of governance. But we cannot deny the fact that almost every state/region in the country has experienced the wind of patrilineal politics.
From the Yadav families in UP and Bihar to the Reddys in Andhra, from the Abdullas and Muftis in Jammu & Kashmir to the lineage of Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu and from the Thackerays in Maharashtra to the Chautalas of Haryana, political dynasts occupy major public offices to this day. We can even go as far to claim that there isn't a major regional political force in the country that does not depend upon an individual or a family.
However, there seems to be an exception. The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party that has been in power at the centre for the past seven years claims to be free from the influence of dynastic politics, but is it true?
Democracy Under Threat:
A book written by Neelam Deo and Arjun Chawla mentions that one-third of the BJP’s MPs belong to political families. So how have they managed to create a perception of them being free from this phenomenon?
The Indian political scene has always been dominated by an individual who runs for the post of Prime Minister. So when Modi rose to prominence, that was a time when the country was gasping for a breath of fresh air and the departure of the congress government was all but guaranteed. When a political leader manages to create an image of supremacy within his party and the voters are encouraged to vote for a person rather than a political entity, that is when questions related to the credibility of that party's candidates become entirely irrelevant as the masses are only concerned with the image of that particular leader.
Positive Contribution Of Political Families:
Political families are generally considered to be a curse on our democratic framework and are viewed as eating up the space which should ideally be occupied by youngsters who've had no political background. But there are certain plus points that political families offer in a social context.
Under-representation of minorities, women and other weaker sections of the society has been a major problem in our country and this is something that political dynasties have managed to address. Most of the prominent political dynasties are able to ensure representation of such under-represented communities in the Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies. They also contribute by giving voice and raising the issues of lower castes as well as minorities and garner popular votes from these communities.
Future Of Dynastic Politics In India:
A simple answer to this question can be that 2000+ years of subordination cannot be wiped out by 70 odd years of Democracy. The classical idea of the ruling elite to place itself in a position of substantial power can only be suppressed through literacy, particularly administrative literacy. Belonging to a political family does not always guarantee success in electoral politics, but it is certainly an influencing factor. Political power should not only be the birthright of individuals from a particular family or community.
The electorate needs to realise its duty of electing a representative who deserves to stay in office on the basis of his capabilities and not on his family roots. If this doesn't happen, then political dynasties will stay for the foreseeable future.
By: Vineet Kumar