Dynastic Politics Corroding Foundations of Republic

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Most observers would probably concur that dynastic politics has taken deep roots in India and if we remain in denial, this unhealthy development has the power to corrode our very foundations of the republic. Ashoka opines that Sunita Aron deserves to be commended for bringing out the book, The Dynasty: Born to Rule. An exclusive review in Different Truths. 

Of all the internal afflictions that have the potential to corrode the democratic edifice, none is more pernicious that the public acceptance of a dynastic principle in matters of governance. ~ Ernest Gellner

Gellner is regarded as one of the foremost political philosophers to have emerged in this century who was widely respected for his clarity of political analysis. I was very fortunate to have had access to his seminal works during my sojourn at the Balliol College Oxford where he had studied. Years later, his son David, himself now a distinguished professor at Oxford paid me a visit in my mofussil town in India and presented me with some of the volumes his father had authored.

The books made a deep impression on me. I was particularly interested in some of the diagnoses he had made of what ails the democratic polity in different countries.

His words of wisdom which I have just cited came back to me while I was perusing the recently released volume appellated The Dynasty: Born to Rule by the senior journalist Sunita Aron.

Most observers would probably concur that dynastic politics has taken deep roots in India and if we remain in denial, this unhealthy development has the power to corrode our very foundations of the republic.

For that reason alone, I feel, Aron deserves to be commended for bringing out this volume. She has very carefully identified the dramatis personae who are products of the dynastic propagation in politics in different parts of this country and explained in a very lucid manner the deep roots it seems to have taken.

The people most closely associated with this development i.e. the politicians themselves constantly deny that there are any dynastic principles in the Indian political dynamics. Not that long ago in an interview Mulayam Singh Yadav was asked why he was so keen to promote his own family members in leadership roles in his political formation. Without battling an eyelid, he stated that it was his party’s wish to have it that way and he was just bowing to their expressed inclinations.

It is noteworthy how many other Indo-politicians resort to this explanation but even a cursory analysis would reveal it to be patently bogus. Most of the Indian political parties have been cultivated on a staple of feudal servility and there is no real latitude for the members to deviate. It would again not be wrong to state that the political parties in India demand loyalty to their supremo over loyalty to the Constitution or democratic principles and it is this servility rather than merit which fetches them political dividends.  We are currently in a position where nearly one fourth of the parliamentarians owe their political emergence and metamorphosis primarily to dynastic principles – and no political formation remains untouched.

Aron has identified the political cultures prevalent in different parties which promotes dynastic subservience and also noted that there is no real impetus for changing the status quo. I could not but help noticing that while her analysis on different dynasts in the country is fairly exhaustive, for some reason she has not devoted the same meticulousness when discussing perhaps the most megalomaniac dynasts independent India has known viz., the Thackerays.

She is bang on when she blames the Congress Party for initiating and promoting this practice. The main problem I have here is that despite the Election Commission ruling I have consistently rejected the notion that the present day Congress (I), which came up in 1969 has any connection whatsoever with the Indian National Congress that fought for India’s freedom. I would go so far as to say that any link drawn between the party founded by Hume and the one created by Indira would be fallacious and deeply painful for those like myself who have an emotional link to the INC that gave us stalwarts like Tilak, Gokhale, CR Das, Gandhi, the Nehru’s, Patel, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Azad and Bose.

Congress (I) was unashamedly created to promote an individual’s interest over the country’s and this was amply demonstrated when the Emergency came into operation. The party was defeated when the elections were called but the governance deficit that was demonstrated by its successors made sure that the perpetrators of dynastic philosophy had the last laugh. This undoubtedly sent a message loud and clear that parties founded on dynastic principles had a secure future in India.

Small wonder, therefore, that dozens of political formations operate strictly on dynastic grounds and even the most able and qualified have to accede to this principle.

This of course is a realistic analysis but we do have to add a rider. It was the older Indian National

Sardar Vallabhbhai

Sardar Vallabhbhai

Congress that gave modern India its first taste of dynastic politics. In 1929, Vallabhbhai Patel was tipped to take over as the Congress President from Motilal Nehru. He had a solid track record of public service behind him. Motilal Nehru openly expressed a desire that the post should go to his son Jawaharlal and spoke to Gandhi about it. At the latter’s intervention, Patel, who held Motilal in high esteem, willingly withdrew his candidature. Jawaharlal proved his mettle by advocating Purna Swaraj but the fact remains that he was able to get his break because of a dynastic advantage he enjoyed. Similarly, Jawaharlal promoted Indira for Congress presidentship over Nijalingappa, in 1959. In effect what I am attempting to state is that while dynastic principle is an article of faith within Congress (I), even the INC was not untouched by it.

While the practice widely prevalent in authoritarian states, is unquestionably inimical to democratic aspirations, we need to analyse it fully before indulging in any knee jerk condemnation.

The way I understand it, dynastic politics involved promotion of an individual primarily because of lineage rather than proper evaluation of merit.

It can be argued that a person of powerful political lineage because of exposure would inevitably enjoy an advantage in getting a head start. And there is some merit to this position. But my own analysis is that the main resentment over dynastic promotion is not over someone with a lineage gaining entry into the political arena. It is when they are catapulted to positions of power without the necessary apprenticeship so important in matters of governance. We would all recognize that this is what ails our polity in a major manner. In some cases individuals with lineage are made exempt from the processes of quality control and proper evaluation.  And again we do have instances where the dynastic promotees are given metaphorical immunity from the consequences of failure when they actually fail. Even more pernicious is the insulation the dynastic interlopers manage to wangle when they are found to have indulged in actions grossly illegal.

We also have instances where political lineage has conferred advantages in non-political arena. How else would one explain the son of a chief minister being catapulted to the presidentship of the state cricket association without having any credible credentials?  When I raised this issue in one of my columns elsewhere, I was subjected to abuse by his cronies, who pointed out that a Test cricketer was an ex-President’s great grandnephew. It was bizarre! Does anyone seriously believe that the cricket legend VVS Laxman gained any advantage through his lineage which includes Dr. Radhakrishnan!

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau

We have the example of Justin Trudeau the new Canadian PM, the son of a very flamboyant PM of our era. He went through regular apprenticeship and then won an election. The first Israeli President was Chain Weizmann, an all-time great scientist,( whose name finds a place in the widely respected to me Top 1000 Scientists From the Beginning of Time to 2000 AD by Philip Barker) who had done stellar work on acetone.  He was a non-political figure. His nephew Ezer became the President after a long political career which included all the ups and downs. Dynasty may have played a part in their entry to politics but effective political filters were there in operation at every stage.  Can we honestly say that is the case here!

CNN IBN did a programme on this issue a few years ago called the Inheritors, which made a perceptive analysis.

I would personally like to believe that we would have sufficient integrity to require those with notable surnames and lineage to abjure any Divine claim to power through lineage. The contention that they do so to serve the country is patently dishonest. When was the last time one heard of a contemporary politician’s son volunteering to join armed forces either at the officer or NCO level! For their information the armed forces here are short of personnel.

I am always reminded of Leah Rabin, the widow of Israeli statesman and Nobel laureate Yitzhak



Rabin, who was brutally shot, while still in office for attempting peace with Palestinians.  She was requested to enter the political arena.

The graceful lady turned it down instantly.  Her contention was that her family had been conferred the supreme honour of serving the country, which she regarded as more than enough. Do we have anyone here who can emulate this noble example!  We would all do well to remember that whatever sacrifices our stalwarts made ,they did not do so that their progeny would be conferred undue advantages in the future.

©Ashoka Jahnvi Prasad

Pix from Net.

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the ‘most educationally qualified in the world’.