Dynasty politics: A menace


By Nithin Sridhar

In what appears to be a clear indication of dynasty politics, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) headed by N Chandrababu Naidu on Wednesday announced the formation of a central committee and two state committees and appointed Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh to the post of general secretary of the central committee.

Lokesh has been elevated from his current position of coordinator, cadre welfare fund. TDP has also included Naidu’s brother-in-law N Harikrishna in the 17-member Politburo. The elevation of Lokesh clearly points towards the fact that Naidu wants to project his son as the future leader of the party.

This is neither the first instance of dynasty politics, nor does it appear as being the last. India has been severely affected by dynasty politics since Independence.

Out of the 68 years of Independent India, around 47 years had been ruled directly or indirectly (through a proxy) by a single family of Nehru-Gandhi—Jawaharlal Nehru followed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, followed by her son Rajiv Gandhi, followed by an indirect rule by his wife Sonia Gandhi. Of course, there were breaks in between, but that does not change the fact that, since Independence, India has been a fiefdom of a particular dynasty.

In the upcoming Bihar elections, Lalu Prasad Yadav has fielded both his sons Tej Pratap and Tejaswi Prasad. In 1997, when he was sent to jail, he had made his wife Rabri Devi as the Chief Minister ignoring other leaders in the party. Last year, Lalu’s former aide Ram Kripal Yadav had left the party after Lalu’s eldest daughter Misa Bharti was chosen to contest the Lok Sabha election from Patliputra.

In Karnataka, the Janata Dal (Secular) is in the control of HD Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy. In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, his son and the current chief minister Akhilesh Yadav and other members of the family control the Samajwadi Party. In Rajasthan, Vasundara Raje has been known to groom her family members.

According to a report in The Hindu, around one-fourth (around 24%) of the MP’s currently sitting in Lok Sabha come from political families. According to Patrick French, in the 15th Lok Sabha that was elected in 2009, the share of MP’s from political families stood at 29%. In 2004, the figures stood at 20%.

Therefore, the menace of dynasty politics is deep rooted and widely prevalent in India.

Various nations across the globe had abandoned kingships and feudal societies, and they had adopted democracy with an intention to prevent monopoly of the privileged few and promote merit based opportunities open for everyone.

This very central tenet of democracy has been severely abused by the practice of dynasty politics, which has reduced Indian democracy into fiefdoms of some political families. This has not only resulted in incompetent people coming to power due to their sheer luck (as they were born into a political family), but has also prevented many talented and educated people from occupying important political positions.

The worst aspect of this issue is that many people do not even realize the gravity of the matter. Many indeed support dynasty, community, and caste based politics.

In one of the surveys done in 2014, when people were asked whether they preferred to vote for a candidate who hailed from a political family, around 46% of them said “Yes”. The lowest support for dynasty politics came from the state of Odisha, whereas the highest was recorded in Gujarat. But, even Odisha, around 29% people supported dynasty politics. In Gujarat and Andra Pradesh, the figures were 66% and 59% respectively.

The survey further revealed that among those who supported dynasty politics, around 45% of people believed that people from political families are better at politics because it is their family occupation. Another 40% people believed that such people have more exposure to politics and hence are better at it.

The survey clearly establishes two things. One, the feudal mindset among the people is still very much in existence, where they assume being born into a political family automatically grants requisite skills to run a country. Two, people are completely unaware of the great damage that dynasty politics is doing to the country.

An oft-quoted argument is that, just as many children of doctors become doctors and businessmen hand over their business empires to their children, why can’t politicians promote their own sons?

Though the argument may appear justified in the first glance, a key issue that makes the case of politicians different is the fact that a person becomes a doctor only by passing relevant degrees. Children of most of the industrialists are also well educated. But, no such training or education criteria exist in the case of politics. Hence, many children of politicians enter politics purely on the shoulders of their fathers or mothers.

In olden times when royal dynasties were ruling across India, though it had its share of good and bad rulers, what cannot be denied is the fact that training was imparted to the young princes. Irrespective of whether the princes turned into good kings or not, they were educated in all aspects of state affairs, including economics, martial arts, diplomacy, and administration.

But, no such training exists in the present form of democracy. Those people who rise in the party after working from grassroots levels are well exposed to various issues of society as well as the intricacies of handling politics. But, many of those who have been inducted from the top have neither ground level experience nor political competence.

When such people come to power, it may result in corruption, monopoly, non-performance, and policy paralysis. Further, the welfare of the family will not only take precedence over party’s welfare, but it will also put national interest at stake. India is already paying heavily for the blunders, corruptions, and policy paralysis caused by a single dynasty that ruled for the larger part after Independence.

The roots of the dynastic politics can be traced back to the absence of intra-party democracy. The leaders who are supposed to run the country by following democratic principles are not implementing those principles within their own parties. Ruchika Singh, an independent policy analyst, writes:The absence of intra-party democracy has contributed to political parties becoming closed autocratic structures with increasing fragmentation within parties, selection of poor electoral representatives, and growing criminalization and abuse of financial power in elections.”

Therefore, the only possible way in which political parties can put an end to dynasty politics is by consciously adopting intra-party democracy. The necessity of intra-party democracy has been well highlighted in the 170th report of the Law Commission of India on electoral reforms as well.

The report states: “If democracy and accountability constitute the core of our constitutional system, the same concepts must also apply to and bind the political parties which are integral to parliamentary democracy. It is the political parties that form the government, man the Parliament and run the governance of the country. It is, therefore, necessary to introduce internal democracy, financial transparency, and accountability in the working of the political parties. A political party which does not respect democratic principles in its internal working cannot be exposed to respect those principles in the governance of the country. It cannot be dictatorship internally and democratic in its functioning outside.”

The report came out in 1999, but even today, the political parties across the country are rarely implementing democracy, both in word and spirit, within their own parties. This has in-turn allowed dynasty politics to thrive and further corrode the Indian democracy from within.

Hence, it is high time that people realize the dangers of dynasty politics and exert proper pressure on the political parties to introduce intra-party democracy and do away with dynasty politics altogether.