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Political Dynasties:TIME TO CURB UNHEALTHY TREND, byPrakash Nanda,18 September 2009 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 18 September 2009

Political Dynasties


By Prakash Nanda

The current political spectacle in Andhra Pradesh reminds us once again of the “dynastic politics” phenomenon in India. The late Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy is virtually dictating to the Congress High Command to accede his claim over his father’s “throne”. Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of this claim, the phenomenon is worth a closer look. Is this healthy for the growth of genuine democracy? What could be its adverse fall-outs? And importantly, how best could these adverse fallouts be contained?

To begin with, dynastic politics is not something peculiar to Indian democracy. The United States, where the recent death of Edward Kennedy highlighted the saga of his clan, has already witnessed the father-son duo (Bushes) occupying the country’s highest office. The just-concluded national elections in Japan saw grandsons of two former Prime Ministers – incumbent Taro Aso of the Liberal Democratic Party and the challenger and eventual winner Yukio Hatoyama, head of the victorious Democratic Party of Japan – leading their respected campaigns. Nearer home, there are examples of the Bhutto family in Pakistan and those of Bandaraniake in Sri Lanka, Koiralas in Nepal, Rahmans in Bangladesh, Sukarno in Indonesia and Suu Kyi in Burma; all these families dominating their respective country’s politics even today.

It could be argued that in a democracy ultimately it is the people, who through elections legitimise the dynastic successions. Children of famous parents enjoy the initial advantage of public recognition and political connections and one cannot do much against it as long as the people approve of it through a democratic exercise. This practice is in sharp contrast to what prevails in authoritarian and totalitarian countries such as North Korea and Syria, where the political succession of the sons is an automatic matter (Kim Il Sung -Kim Jong Il – Kim Jong Un in North Korea and Hafez al Assad – Bashar Assad in Syria).    

On a closer scrutiny, however, the story of “democratic successions” is not all that easy. Emotional content because of the contributions of famous parents is an important factor behind the success of the offsprings, but that alone cannot ensure it. Equally important are the factors of monetary and administrative resources that come aplenty for the children of established and ruling politicians, whether directly or indirectly. Only when political lineage is buttressed by money and other factors, political succession is guaranteed, not otherwise. If lineage were enough, then the blood-relatives of Mahatma Gandhi, Raj Gopalchari, Rajendra Prasad and Jay Prakash Narayan would have been ruling India today. In fact, grandsons of Mahatma Gandhi have lost Indian elections. 

Secondly, in India today we are witnessing too many cases of political successions. In the US or other comparable countries, there are no doubt political dynasties, but their number is not proliferating the way it is happening in India. For instance, as many as four members of the venerated Nehru-Gandhi family are Members of Parliament today. The Parliament also has many other members who have exploited their family names – the likes of Meira Kumars, Deoras, Scindias, Ajit Singhs, Yadavs, Pawars, Gowdas, Marans, Pilots, Dutts and Reddys. Indeed, this list is illustrative, not exhaustive. And this phenomenon, it is obvious, has pervaded almost all the political parties, the Left being the notable exception.    

Worse still is the fact that the phenomenon is not limited to the central politics; it is deeper rooted at the State level. The list of blood relatives of successful and resourceful past Chief Ministers becoming Chief Ministers is growing – Biju Patnaik-Naveen Patnaik, Sheikh Abdullah-Farooq Abdullah-Omar Abdullah, S B Chavan-Ashok Chavan, MG Ramachandran-Janaki Ramachandran, Lalu Prasad-Rabri Debi, Deve Gowda-Kumaraswamy, Ravi Shankar Shukla-Shyama Charan Shukla, Devi Lal-Om Prakash Chautala and N T Rama Rao-Chandrababu Naidu are leading examples.

And, we all know how the likes of Mehbooba Mufti in Kashmir, Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Ajit Singh in Uttar Pradesh, K Murlidharan in Kerala, Kuldip Bishnoi in Haryana, Sukhbir Singh Badal in Punjab and Jagan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh 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. In Tamil Nadu, Chief Minister and DMK supremo Karaunanidhi has already revealed “his will” that his son Stalin, now an important minister, will succeed him.

Indeed, it will be instructive to have a detailed study of the dynastic succession as far as the “ordinary” MLAs and MPs all over the country are concerned. It can be safely guessed that the phenomenon is assuming serious proportions here too. In other words, taken together, there might be at least 1000 to 1500 political families in India, which have successfully promoted dynastic successions at various levels, be it national or provincial.  As it is, there are also cases like that of Mulayam Singh Yadav where the family head, brother, son and daughter-in-law have contested together for the same Parliament. This is happening in other States too.   

It could 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. But this is a weak argument. Given the fact that India’s is essentially a plebiscitary democracy i.e. the people vote for the promises made by the candidates rather than the candidates, who respond to 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.

But, when there are more political dynasties then 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 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?

It is high time the country devised ways to “contain” the undemocratic growth of political dynasties. 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 (after two successive terms) 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.---INFA 

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)




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