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A House of the People? Or Chamber of Princes?

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
September 17, 2014 15:17 IST
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No wonder Parliament has some 130 MPs out of the 545 hailing from political families. This class threaten to make the Lok Sabha, which the People’s House, into a sort of Chamber of Princes which we once had before Independence, says Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Varied interpretations are flowing about the by-election results of several state assemblies announced on Tuesday. They include a sudden comeback by the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, a strong spark of hope were Congress to work harder as in Rajasthan, and the Bharatiya Janata Party getting a toehold in West Bengal. Mainly, the BJP losing ground is centric to these interpretations.

Lost in this welter of readings is a nugget that ought to cause concern for a democratic republic like ours. Another member of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family has moved into the Lok Sabha, making Tej Pratap Singh the fifth of the extended family there. This grand-nephew has an uncle, Akhilesh Yadav running UP as its chief minister. There are other assorted from the clan in the state’s political rough and tumble.

Going by the margin by which this youngster won -- 3.21 lakh despite the BJP’s higher polling than in April -- it may not be entirely incorrect to say that the patriarch’s efforts may have been more to get him elected than merely beat the BJP.  Mulayam had vacated it, like Narendra Modi did his Vadodara seat.

The entire Samajwadi Party in Lok Sabha is the Yadav family -- Mulayam, his nephews Dharmendra and Akshay, and daughter-in-law Dimple. The parliamentary party meet, should it decide to meet, can do so at the family dinner table. Mulayam, being the strongman, seldom would call upon the younger generations to proffer counsel. Even Akhilesh doesn’t get to have a say though he heads a state.

But it doesn’t stop here. Mulayam's cousin Ram Gopal Yadav is Rajya Sabha MP, and a brother Shivpal Singh Yadav is a minister in the Akhilesh government. In such a case, can the conclusion that politics is a family business be far off the mark? In fact the Yadavs tote up to be the biggest by number in politics from any political party even as there are doubts about the country’s most powerful, the Nehru-Gandhi retaining their usefulness to the Congress.

Of course, the Badals of Punjab are sniping close at the Yadav clan in bringing the families into politics. Prakash Singh Badal is the chief minister, his son, Sukhbir, the deputy, and his two brothers-in-law are ministers, and between them, they deal with weighty portfolios. Sukhbir’s wife is a minister in the Narendra Modi government.  That is some family presence in politics and voters don’t seem to be frustrated at this dynastic principle spread across parties.

In fact, there seem to be an acceptance that the political matrix is such that families are expected to push their members into politics and there is hardly a murmur save the gripe from a few, including this columnist.  It is routine -- Bal Thackeray’s son, nephew and grandson are all in it. Like many other families which, if not on a national scale, locally control smaller constituencies. Five, spread over three generations, from the Scindias have been and are in politics. Lalu Yadav’s tried to have Rabri and Misa elected.

It did not seem odd to the voters that when Gopinath Munde died in an accident, Sharad Pawar should announce that if a member from the Munde family were to contest the Beed seat to fill the vacancy in a by-election, the Nationalist Congress Party would not field a candidate. It was clear assertion of the importance of family in politics. Pankaja Munde is an MLA now.  Pawar has his nephew and daughter in it, one a deputy chief minister and the other an MP.

Nor is it seen as odd that Rahul Gandhi, rejected time and again by the electorate -- not from his seat but by the response to his campaigns -- and visible reluctance to lead is seen as the Congress’ only hope. The core voters of the party as well as the leaders, if leaders there are apart from Sonia Gandhi in that outfit, believe that only DNA mattered. That is why Priyanka Vadra was seen as an alternative to Rahul.

The resigned humour that Priyanka’s progeny could be the next generation leader is not without a belief that dynastic politics is by now the order. The facile argument is, if a lawyer’s or a doctor’s son can take to the same professions, why not in politics too? That the votes are cast in their favour props up this argument but, of course, it is as much the voter’s error or misreading of what a democracy or a representative form of government means.

Patrick French in his India: A Portrait had pointed out that this dynastic way in India is “so taken for granted that it had never been quantified”. A little over half of people polled for a survey quoted in the Times of India had even thought that dynasts were better at politics because it was “their family occupation” and about an equal proportion even thought it was an asset.

No wonder in this parliament to which Tej Pratap Singh has been pitchforked at a young age -- he is only in his 20s -- has some 130 MPs out of the 545 hailing from political families, as pointed out by The Hindu. This class -- the word is used deliberately here -- threaten to make the Lok Sabha, which the People’s House, into a sort of Chamber of Princes which we once had before Independence.

The late J S Verma, a former chief justice of India, had once said: "I don't think the majority opinion is what they (politicians) reflect. A lot of them are not true representatives of the people.”  Apparently, they represent their own interests which may extend to businesses which grow on the strength of the political positions.  They are in it for themselves, so to say.

If this trend continued, making Parliament a closed club of dynasts which it almost is because of high election costs, then we may be helpless spectators of them passing off theiraspirations passed off as ours. That is not India aimed to be when the British were forced to quit the country and princes were asked to give in to a democratic republic.

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