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'Vote for us because we are stepping into our father's shoes'

March 24, 2004

At our prestigious management schools -- yes, including the very ones that Human Resources Development Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi is threatening, but more on that another time -- students have a set of parameters when judging which company to join: its size, the kind of job, the remuneration, for example.

There is one more key criterion: the ability to rise from within the ranks. And it is for this reason that many of the best students never join firms that are seen as family establishments, where no matter how good you are, no matter how brilliant, the top job can only belong to a member of the family. Thus, the best usually join foreign firms or Indian giants such as HLL (a company that has become the byword for professionalism). Yes, the Tatas and Reliance do draw some of the best students but that is because the company is large enough to let the best flourish even if the very top job -- of chairman -- is within the family.

And those who do join family-run firms, who see their chances of rising through the ranks stymied, invariably quit after picking up some experience or making some money. After all, why put in effort so that someone else will shine and garner the rewards?

Every human being has within him the desire to rise in whatever field he has chosen. Dr Abraham Maslow terms this desire 'self-actualisation', and explains it as 'man's desire for fulfillment, namely the tendency for him to become actually in what he is potentially: to become everything that one is capable of becoming.'

Politics is no different.

India's political parties, especially the bigger ones, have thousands of members and supporters. Every year thousands join them while those who are already part of the party, aspire to do better; rise within the ranks, and at some stage become a legislator, parliamentarian, or a senior party functionary. To achieve these goals, these dreams, they work extremely hard, supporting policies and programmes with their sweat and blood. In doing so, they often forego or sacrifice careers in the outside world.

True, not every member – rich or poor, high or low – can become a top leader or a legislator or parliamentarian. But every member likes to believe that he has a chance at succeeding, and if at all he should not win a nomination, there would be some rational, justifiable reason for it.

And this is where we come across a major problem.

Of India's two main parties, one, the Congress, has little room for such aspiration. Today a talented, hardworking person could be stuck in the Congress for years without ever getting a shoo-in as a candidate for parliament or an assembly seat. Because in this party, the only persons who can aspire to a Lok Sabha ticket, or even from an assembly constituency, or be designated to a senior post within the party, are those who have a father, mother or at least an uncle in it. That is the primary, perhaps only, requirement to flourish in the party: a relative.

Thus Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, and Milind Deora get the seats their respective fathers held, no questions asked. Having once met Sachin Pilot, I can vouchsafe that he comes across as a bright, intelligent and capable person; but the only reason he got the nomination is clearly because he is Rajesh Pilot's son. This insults both Sachin and his late father. And what about Milind Deora from south Mumbai? It is inconceivable that this posh locality had no other contender to match Milind on all parameters but one: paternity. What was the method by which Sachin, Milind or Rahul were nominated to their seats over other aspirants? Have constituencies become fiefdoms, held by individual families and passed down the generations? Were there no other candidates among the hundreds who have slogged over the years in the Congress but are forever condemned to be just workers, petty officials, or mere advisors?

The Congress is fast becoming a party of family members, for family members, by family members!

And if that is the case, why on earth should anyone vote for it or even work for it? Why should a worker who doesn't have a relative in the Congress stay on in that party? Why should he give off his best effort for the party's success when he knows the fruits of his efforts will always belong to someone else; that no matter how hard he works he has very little chance of ever fighting an election, and no opportunity at all for his self-actualization. Lower morale and enthusiasm will translate into less work during campaigning, which is the time when the Congress has to actually work harder.

In stark contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party has thus far not been smitten by the dynasty bug (one hopes it never does). It selects candidates based on parameters of success, not inheritance. But more important, any middle-level official in the party knows he stands a chance of winning a nomination, if not now then the next time. With such hope burning eternal in his breast, a member will work that much harder for the party's success, because he knows the next time round his colleagues might well be working for his electoral success. Look at the contrast: the Congress president is president only because of her family connections; the BJP president comes from a humble family. What is the message being sent out?

You don't have to be a management graduate to know that workers are much more enthusiastic when they can dream of stepping into the master's shoes, or that greater enthusiasm produces better results.

Moreover, India's youth today are disdainful of feudalism and all that goes with it, including this jagirdari system of sons (or daughters) succeeding fathers (or mothers). The message the Congress sends out is that its newest ideology is not socialism or liberalism but nepotism. The appeal screams: 'Vote for us because we are stepping into our father's shoes.'

Can this message win elections?


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Amberish K Diwanji

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