The significance of the institution of the family in India can never be underestimated. Since the Vedic times, the family has always assumed great importance in the Indian society. In fact, the family was regarded as the social and political unit of the society and was considered as the nucleus of the social life since then.
The family system still exists in India. In fact, the family ties are pretty strong here, with members mostly always standing up for each other. People also love talking about their families- it is often that we hear people telling the traffic policemen after breaking a ‘mere’ traffic rule or so, “Do you know whose son/daughter I am?”
The existence of a strong family system, which leads to nepotism and undermines individuality (which is not to deny the importance of kinship bonds in life altogether), in India also reflects in mostly all the fields- Bollywood, politics, the television industry et al. This article focuses on the family politics prevalent in India and the world, which is more famously known as ‘dynastic politics’.
We classify a dynasty as a political dynasty when members of a certain family dominate a country’s legislative and executive seats. Political dynasties come about through a phenomenon which political scientists call the “coattail effect”.
“The coattail effect occurs when positive public appraisal of prominent politicians lifts the popularity of their close friends or family members. Because the politician is seen as capable, then the public tends to believe in the competence of his or her inner circle,” Titi Anggraeni, the executive director of the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem), has said.
Think of a political family in India and the first thing that comes to one’s mind is the Gandhi family, which leads the Congress party currently. The dynasty was started by Indira Gandhi, whose son Rajiv also became prime minister, and Rajiv’s widow Sonia and son Rahul remain the most prominent faces of the Congress party. While Rahul is indeed commonly seen as incompetent now, especially after his interview to Arnab Goswami, his lineage was seen as having played a very major role in the Congress victory in the national elections in 2009.
However, the Congress is not the only party in India which practises dynasty politics, contrary to popular belief. The BJP follows the trend too. Many prominent political kids of famous leaders got Assembly tickets from the party this time, like Vivek Thakur, Arjit Shashwat, Sanjeev Chaurasia, Ajay Pratap Singh, Nitish Mishra, Rana Randhir Singh, among others. Apart from giving tickets to sons/daughters of prominent leaders, there are several small dynasties within the party itself. Anurag Thakur, son of former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, is MP from Hamirpur, while Varun Gandhi, MP from Sultanpur is the son of Central minister Maneka Gandhi. Poonam Mahajan, daughter of former union minister Pramod Mahajan, is the BJP MP from Mumbai North-Central. Her cousin Pritam Munde, daughter of the late minister Gopinath Munde, is in Lok Sabha with her. Dynasty politics is also clearly prevalent in the allies of the BJP like the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Many dynasts were given tickets by the BJP in the Delhi elections in 2013 and 2015.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference is run by the Abdullah family, with Omar Abdullah being the youngest Chief Minister of the state. He is the son of Farooq Abdullah, a qualified surgeon and grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, both of whom have been Chief Minister of the state. Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP has succeeded her father.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party is basically run by the Yadav family, with Mulayam Singh Yadav having been Chief Minister of the state three times, and his son Akhilesh Yadav being the current Chief Minister of the state.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party is headed by Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu, who is the son-in-law of its founder NT Rama Rao. To make the line of succession clear Chandrababu Naidu’s son, Nara Lokesh, has been appointed the general secretary of party’s Central Committee.
There are countless other examples in India, both of national as well as regional parties. In fact, historian Patrick French wrote in his 2011 book named India : A Portrait that if this trend of family politics continued in India, the country could slide back to the days when it was ruled by a “hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings.” He also expressed concern that the next Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament to which 543 MPs are directly elected would be a “house of dynasts.”
However, this trend is not limited to India alone.
The United States has its share of Bushes, Clintons, Cuomos, and Daleys (and before them, Kennedys, Roosevelts, and so on.)
Political dynasties are the building blocks of Philippine politics too. Major political parties such as the ruling Liberal Party, United Nationalist Alliance and Nationalist Party merely exist through alliances forged among powerful political families.
Even in Indonesia, the Chosiyah family and the likes are big players in the politics of the country. In fact, in March 2015 the Indonesian parliament passed a law that prohibits anyone with one degree of separation from an incumbent, by blood or marriage, from running for one of the country’s more than five hundred mayoral, district-head, and provincial-governor seats until at least one five-year term has passed to curb the growth of dynastic politics in the country.
The disadvantages of dynastic politics are many. To name a few, family politics results in nepotism and patronage, as we have seen in the case of Robert Vadra here in India, and this nepotism usually translates into corruption. This was also the case with Ratu Atut Chosiyah who was until recently the governor of the western Java province of Banten in Indonesia, but convicted after he was found bribing the head of the Constitutional Court to rig the results of a district election.
In countries where mechanisms like the judiciary and the Parliament are not strong enough, the problems of dynastic politics could be worse as the lack of transparency in the Government can often go undetected.
The entire concept of dynastic politics is also detrimental to the concept of democracy within a political party itself, since party leaders and candidates for public office are recruited not through a rigid process of selection within political parties but through traditional kinship networks. This is done in order to ensure the perpetuation of power of the particular political family. Thus, the entire concept of meritocracy is undermined, as a person who does not have any political affiliation is obviously at a disadvantaged position just because of his/her surname.
Another problem with dynastic politics is that it limits the pool of candidates entering the political system, thus undermining the representativeness and quality of government.
However, despite the very obvious disadvantages of dynastic politics, passing a legislation like the Indonesian parliament where a family member of a political family is barred for contesting elections for a particular period is not very reasonable either. Such a law violates every citizen’s right to contest elections, and it is not really fair to tell a person that, “You cannot do what you want to do in your life because your mother/father was…”
Having said all of the above, it is also possible that the consequence of family politics might not always be negative since there are families which do everything for a country, without any collateral interests. In fact, the very reason why families like the Kennedys became a household name in the United States was because of the dedicated service of the members of the family to the country.
However, I do believe that it is imperative to educate the voters so that they scrutinise the track record and performance of candidates rather than their surnames. If voters choose wisely, the phenomenon of dynastic politics will weaken and meritocracy and democracy will prevail. It is imperative that politics and governance should be open to all, and not restricted to just a few individuals or their families.
Your ticket to make it big in politics should not be a surname.
(Image Courtesy: Flickr)