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Home > India > News > Columnists > Mahesh Vijapurkar

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How political dynasties have undermined India

November 12, 2008

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Hear! Hear!!

Rahul Gandhi [Images] has spoken and made a point: giving tickets to family members of party leaders to contest elections 'undermines' the party because what has troubled the country is 'family', 'money', and 'patronage'.

He is actually the point he is trying to make.

Had he not been the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, he would have had his knuckles rapped by the party high command, which in this cannot happen because his mother (Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images]) is the high command.

Denial of opportunities

Had it been anyone else, there would have been public outrage and the umbrage would have been publicly conveyed to the politician frustrated that the generation next has been denied an opportunity. They are families that have learnt that what has been secured be better kept within the family.

You don't have to look far. The latest is the example of Margaret Alva. See how she has been asked to resign all her party posts because she did whine that her son was denied a ticket for elections in Karnataka and that some tickets were sold.

Such blasphemy from Alva should actually be no different from what has been said by the fifth generation in the Nehru family, if you decide to start with Motilal Nehru. But power, and its transfer within the bloodline, has been from the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, making it the fourth. Probably Nehru did not mean to have daughter Indira Gandhi [Images] to be the prime minister, but she became. Had she not been of the Nehru house?

That, the young politician by inheritance, I hope, understands is the start of dynastic politics in this country.

But poor Alva does not know that there are people like Rahul Gandhi, more equal among equals, precisely because of his birth in a family.

The dynast spoke

In other words, now the dynast has spoken. So it is wisdom, and so news. That is why his blunt conveyance of his displeasure has not made Mama Sonia Gandhi angry, leading to a swift upbraiding. You see, Rahul Gandhi's mama likes the son. Just like Alva likes hers. You are spared, she is not.

But let us not forget that Rahul's daddy would not have become a prime minister and would only continued to fly planes had he not been the son of Indira Gandhi. That was the moment when Congressmen decided that family is best to protect their own self-interests.

Fiefdoms

That is why you have promotion of self-interest on the pretext of public interest as the primary ambition of each politician in the ranks of the Congress party and it has spread to other political parties as well; there is hardly a party where such tendencies have been curbed, thought it may not be widespread. All parties are touched by this malaise.

Now that Rahul Gandhi is on a travel across the country, of course in fits and starts, not like the one long journey across the vivid, colourful, poor and subjugated country that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi undertook at the behest of Gopal Krishna Gokhale, he may learn a lot more about the local political families of the Congressmen who have held local people in thrall in their fiefdoms and survived by paying their tributes to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Keeping it warm

Let us not forget that once a sitting member of an elected body -- panchayat to Parliament -- dies, it was the Congress that used the argument those in difficult situations, 'the sympathy factor' worked best with the emotional Indians and opted for a son, daughter or widow as a candidate in by-elections. That was promoting a family, even if indirectly, in achieving the right numbers and continued presence of a party nominee. That was the Congress contribution to Indian democracy.

That would be quite educative to the young man who is a self-confessed learner of reality.

It starts in the village panchayats. Men who have to sidestep because positions are reserved for women have almost invariably managed to find a wife, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a mother-in-law or even a sister-in-law to keep the seat warm for them till the reservation is vacated.

Patronage

That is why we have apparently 'selected', and not 'elected' representatives in such constituencies, be it the village panchayat or the Lok Sabha; their stranglehold and ability to dispense patronage and in some cases, put the scare, is the main cause for the votes going their way.

One does not have to look only to Lalu Prasad Yadav [Images] for making his wife chief minister of Bihar or Mulayam Singh Yadav [Images] for helping make Akhilesh Yadav, a member of Parliament. The examples abound, though some kith and kin have conducted them exemplarily and made a contribution.

So much so, there are constituencies, as in Akluj in Maharashtra, or even Baramati, Or Sangli where virtually everyone connected with the late Vasantdada Patil's family got his share of the public pie. These are places where the family matters above all. There are examples in Andhra Pradesh, or in Tamil Nadu, or well, the list can go on and on, of places and people across the wide, big country, without apparent end.

Top to bottom

These give rise, at the micro-level, to family fiefdoms where they take control of all elected offices by the sheer strength of the influence they wield and the people only rubber stamp them on the ballot papers. Technically, they are 'elected' but in reality, forced down the people's throat.

The point made by Rahul Gandhi is quite right. It, according to him, undermines the party. According to me, such nepotism undermines the nation because those who deserve to be in positions and make a difference to the country are not allowed to move beyond the fringes. In India, patronage matters. What better than patronage of a powerful family, even if it is localised in its reach?

It is only a replication at the bottom of the heap of the ills at the apex.


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