Hypocrisy of Dynasts

Dynasts are interested in claiming the political legacy as natural heir of the party incepted by their ancestors. But, they have little interest in ideology their parents fought for

By Anil Anand

How were the yore-years monarchical dynasties different from the present day political dynasties? Should there be a dynastical structure at all in a bubbling democracy like India? Given the developments taking place all around, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari (and in the literal sense), where the so called political or dynastic families are either on the boil or facing transitional turmoil, these questions are desperately begging for answers.

The country took a huge historic step when it ushered into a democratic polity from centuries of monarchical rule with divided principalities via the 200 years of autocratic foreign rule that was everything but peoples’ rule. Yes, the seven decades of democracy has done well. Since no system is perfect so there is no harm in admitting that the current democratic structure has its weak-links which need to be plugged from time to time. There are efforts to identify and plug these weak-spots through Constitutional and other measures but these efforts are abysmally slow and tardy.

But one area or issue that transcends beyond Constitutional proprieties and has a lot to do with personal commitments and morality relates to the proliferation of political dynasties that are spread across the country from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Since most of these political parties, which otherwise swear by democratic spirit and inner-party democracy are currently witnessing a transitional phase, some from first to the second generation while others even beyond that, the vulgar face of the dynastic politics has jarringly come out that immediately triggers a comparison with the monarchical times which is but natural.

The times and the circumstances in which these two systems ushered were different and cannot be compared. The transitional phases in the two systems are absolutely incomparable and so are the means to achieve the generational shift. The basic principle of transition of power from one generation to the other has remained the same, conspiracies and manipulations, with claimants to the throne unsparingly sniping at each other. The big change or shift is that there are no “bloody intrigues of royal palace” as the transitional fight used to be proverbially described during monarchical times.

The intrigues and revolts for the ultimate claim of political legacy of a particular family or an individual, either by going against the party patriarch or the claimants having a go at each other, are at full play even in the current phase. Even if there is no bloodshed as was associated with the palace intrigues, certain practices being followed either by the patriarchs to handover the baton to their favorite ward or the warring heir apparent to show each other down run against the grain of democratic practices.

The drama that unfolded in the DMK, it began during the life time of its patriarch M Karunaniddhi with appointment of his favorite son Stalin as the heir apparent and concluded on his Marina beach memorial. The happenings in the former deputy prime minister Devi Lal clan’s Haryana-centric family fiefdom of Indian National Lok Dal aka INLD with the current family head Om Prakash Chautala, since convicted and serving imprisonment along with his elder son Ajay Singh in a case of corruption, suspended Ajay’s son from the party to pave way for handing over of the baton to his younger son Abhay Chautala, are the latest and most disturbing instances of the modern day “royal palace intrigues”.

These two latest examples and there are many such happenings in the past, are an indicator of two disturbing facts; one, the dynastic politics is becoming stronger by the day thereby further damaging the democratic values such as inner party democracy and equal opportunity of growth to all; second, the father-sons and brother versus brother and in cases such as that of the Chautalas, grandfather versus the grandsons conflicts, have led to the basic moral values particularly based on mutual respect and affection going for a toss.

These were not the first nor would be the last such happenings given the fact that dynastic order has been firmly gripping the democratic system from region to region, state to state and ultimately at the national levels. In the process the social and moral values are also becoming a casualty. For instance how would one describe the fight between OP Chautala and his two grandsons? The grandsons tried to show their strength during a public rally being attended by him with their supporters raising slogans against their elders. On the other hand the grandfather used the harshest of terms against the grandsons and announced their suspension from the party to clear the route for his young son, before he went back to the jail after expiry of his parole.

Before coming to the question as to whether dynasties or political dynasties have any place or be allowed to prosper in a democratic set up such as ours, it will be interesting to have a cursory look at the astronomical growth of these phenomena on pan-India basis. The concept has spread its tentacles so fast that it is now resulting in plethora of sub-dynasties mushrooming even within a strong dynast- controlled family fiefdom.

Initially the only party, at least at the national levels, which used to be accused of encouraging are depending on dynastic politics was the Congress. Of course the backdrop for this fact was provided by the strong presence of the Nehru-Gandhi family members beginning with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and entering fourth generation with the current party president Rahul Gandhi.

“Parivarvad” (nepotism) was once the main plank of the opposition leaders ranging from Ram Manohar Lohia, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, George Fernandes, LK Advani…. and the list is long and unwinding. Gone are the days and ever since the entire complexion of the Indian politics has changed particularly with respect to dynastic politics.

It is unfortunate but a hard fact that barring the Left parties, political dynasties have either taken over the existing political parties are floated new outfits which are entirely run by their family members. This is a disturbing trend which has spread from the national levels to the region and state levels and so the resultant turf wars.

Beginning with Congress, now many regional parties have also found themselves controlled by some political families. Starting from Jammu and Kashmir with Abdullah and Mufti families controlling National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party respectively, Andhra Pradesh’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the newly carved out state of Telengana, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) founded by former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh and subsequently controlled by his son Ajit Singh with now grandson Jayant entering the arena, the father-son, Prakash Singh Badal and Sukhbir Badal, controlled Shiromani Akali Dal, the Mulayam Singh Yadav-clan controlled Samajdwadi Party, the Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family concern Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and even the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), the family not only matters, but also calls the shots. How could one go without mentioning the Lok Jan Shakti Party of Ramvilas Paswan, Nationalist Congress Party founded by Sharad Pawar and about to be handed over to his daughter Supriya Sule, Shiv Sena of Bal Thackery which is already preparing to be taken over by the third generation of the family, so on so forth.

Nearly two dozen people related to Mulayam Singh Yadav hold some political position or the other. His son Akhilesh was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for five years, while his brother was a senior minister in the state for several years. Of the five MPs of his party, four are from his family, including his daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav.

RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav too has many family members in politics. In fact, when the fodder scam threatened his chief ministership, he brought his wife Rabri Devi in his place. One of his sons, Tejaswi, served as Bihar’s deputy chief minister until recently, another was a senior minister in the state, while his daughter Misa Bharati is a Rajya Sabha MP.

 Paswan, whose rise, like that of Mulayam and Lalu, is linked to the Janata Party days, is a minister in the Narendra Modi government. His son Chirag Paswan and brother Ramchandra Paswan are among the handful of MPs of the Lok Janshakti Party while his other brother, Pashupati Kumar Paras, is now a minister in the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar.

Down south, Tamil Nadu has seen political families flourish.  Karunanidhi had been the chief minister several times. His son MK Stalin is currently the leader of the opposition in the state and is seen as a future chief minister while elder son Alagiri, a former Union Minister in UPA dispensation, was sulking and thrown out of the party by Karunanidhi during his life time. And so the fight is still on between Stalin and Alagiri.

The issue of Telugu pride brought superstar NT Rama Rao from the green room of the film studio to the room heading the undivided Andhra Pradesh cabinet in the early 1980s by forming the TDP. His son-in-law and current Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu took forward this political legacy. His son Lokesh is the rising star in the state cabinet.

Similar is the story in neighbouring Telangana. The son of TRS leader and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, KT Rama Rao, is seen as the rising star in the party. His daughter Kavitha is also a Lok Sabha MP.

This apart, there many small family centric parties at sub-regional levels particularly in large states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra etc. Most of the regional and sub-regional dynastic political parties are based either on religion, such as Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal, or caste as is the case with Paswan, Apna Dal (UP) which is now controlled by the family of its founder Sone Lal Patel or Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (Bihar) of Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha.

Certainly, these political parties provide a deadly mix of caste/religion and dynasties. None of these factors are in consonance with the democratic values but the harsh realities are before everyone to see. Also, behind growth of this deadly mixture is the urgent need of national political parties mainly BJP and Congress, to forge winning alliances. The BJP under Modi and Amit Shah took this experiment successfully to a macro level in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. As a result BJP heads almost a 48-party ruling coalition. The Congress during the 10 years of UPA rule was a poor second on this count.

As the war for 2019 Lok Sabha elections heats up, there is no doubt that this experiment will be tested in many new forms and in the ultimate the political dynasties will get an important role to play. Any big player ignoring Abdullahs and Muftis in Jammu and Kashmir, Badals in Punjab, Chautalas in Haryana, Paswans and Kushwahas in Bihar and Apna Dal in UP, would do at his or her own peril.

The dynastic politics has certainly travelled out of the Congress where it was initially confined to only the Nehru-Gandhi family but subsequently the other leaders followed the guiding principle set by the first family. In today’s Congress there is the main dynasty and sub-dynasties galore. Any and every leader worth his or her salt has ensured that their wards or new generations enter the Congress politics.

Coming to the BJP which in its earlier ‘avtar’ Bharatiya Jan Sangh and later BJP targeted the Congress as a party of “parivarvad” with specific reference to Nehru-Gandhi family. It remains a fact that right from Vajpayee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi to Prime Minister Modi, none of them had or have family members into BJP politics. But that is not true of the entire BJP which is now not even a pale shade of what it once used to be a party with a difference. There is the Dhumal dynasty in Himachal Pradesh, a Vasundhara Raje family in Rajasthan that extends up to Madhya Pradesh, the Pramod Mahajan, Gopinath Munde and Narain Rane families in Maharahstra among others. This apart the most of the NDA allies are all family-centric outfits.

The vital question arises whether dynasties have any place in a democratic set-up? On the basis of barometer of morality and ethics, the answer is no at least to the manner in which parties are being floated and run by the families and their members. It defeats the basic principle of democracy of equal opportunities to all and not only the family controlling or more befittingly owning the party. Yes, such political parties are being owned by some families, which in itself is an anti-thesis to democratic norms.

It is the Constitutional right of every India including the wards of a political leader owning a political party to enter politics and contest elections. It is in this light that an argument is often forwarded by such leaders that if a doctor’s son/daughter can become a doctor, and an engineer’s son/daughter an engineer, so what is the harm if their sons and daughters become politicians.

Certainly there is no harm and they are well within their rights. Such leaders should also set some standards to measure the capabilities of their wards. Should their wards para-drop and jump to the top of the party owned by their father or mother? This is what is actually happening and in turn hampering the growth of new and genuine leadership at all levels.

More importantly the owners of the dynastic political parties have to set some standards for themselves as well. Let us concede that the dynasties in modern day politics cannot be wished away, the best the leaders can do is to set some standards to be followed during transition from one generation to the other. It sounds more theoretical but certain norms need to be put in place so as to prevent ugly situations such as the ones unfolding on Chennai’s Marina beach or at the Haryana public rallies of the INLD where grandfather and grandsons came face to face.

Finally, if the owners of these political parties and their wards remain unfazed to the public concern in the event of such ugly scenarios, should not the public act? There is a strong case for people to mull over and react to the situation where dynastic politics with all its maladies running rough shod over democratic institutions and values.  It is in the interest of the Indian Republic that dynastic politics in all its forms, barring where the younger generation proves its mettle on the ground, should be discouraged. The only way to do this is to reject them at the hustings.

As it is ideologies on which the leaders of yore built their political edifices, have fast lost relevance in the country’s politics. The lust for power, by hook or crook, seems to have sole motive of politics. The founders of most of the dynastic political parties went through rough and tumble of politics in the process building movements after movements based and attracted people to their hold by dint of ideological beliefs.

The dilution of ideological beliefs began gradually and seems to have touched its lowest ebb currently. It is rather intriguing that the younger set of leaders be it Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, OP Chautala’s MP grandson Dushyant, Sheikh Abdullah’s grandson Omar Abdullah and many younger leaders of their ilk desperately wanted to become heir apparent and grab their illustrious grandfathers and father political legacy but none seems to be interested in the ideologies which gave iconic status to their elders.

The reality is that the sole guiding factor among these political dynasts is to grab power through exploiting the image of their elders. They sometimes carry the symbols of the ideologies their elders believed in, for example Akhilesh supporting a red cap symbolizing samajwad, only to please them and ensure smooth transfer of power. For them the ideological belief is nothing more than that.