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Dynastic politics in democratic India — a sheer necessity?

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By Amit Kushari

Dynastic rule is quite common in many states of India and in the Center also. With the exception of BJP and Leftist parties many state level parties and the Indian National Congress at the center have not been able to give up family politics of passing down the baton.

In India, people often wonder why dynasties are so important in the Indian political scene. In some states like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh dynasties do not matter, whereas in some states like Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir and in the government of India dynasty is of paramount importance. In India, dynastic rules are not undemocratic — rather they are fully democratic. The princes and princesses and all the heirs of a dynasty are elected by the people of India and only then they can enter Parliament or state assemblies. Let us examine how and why the dynasties come into politics.

Politics in India, I regret to say, is primarily based on hatred. If you have to float a political party and win elections — you have to first of all identify which group of people you will target as enemies. If the enemies are identified it is easy for the politician to impress on the voters the need for coming out to vote in large numbers so that the supporters of the imagined enemy could be outnumbered and subdued. It is indeed very difficult for any politician to win votes in the name of all good things like development, peace and brotherhood. Nitish Kumar and Naveen Patnaik would appear to be exceptions to the rule — however, even they are not exceptions. Nitish Kumar, for sweeping the elections in Bihar, had to create in the minds of the voters, an imagined enemy, who is all against development, peace and fairplay, hinting at the prolonged misrule of RJD.....besides ensuring for his party all the committed upper caste Hindu votes through an alliance with BJP. The Biharis in large numbers voted for JDU out   of a sheer fear that if JDU  is defeated, Bihar may again be thrown into the dark corridors of underdevelopment and lawlessness. Naveen Patnaik's victory was also due to his father's glory, to some extent, and fear of being swamped by national parties like the Congress Party and BJP. His good work was also recognised.

The entire political space in India today is divided into well demarcated areas by all the parties and each political party has its own well defined area of influence. The BJP has targeted the entire Hindu and Sikh community — especially the upper castes. This is quite a big area and almost 84 percent of Indians are under their scope of influence. Even if they can capture half of this huge field they will get more than 40 percent votes and this, in a multi-party democracy is enough to capture power. Since BJP has only 23 percent committed votes in India it has to somehow manage 15/16 percent more votes to come to power. This they try to achieve with the help of votes polled by their allies. The Bahujan Samaj Party has a well defined target area in the scheduled caste community...which covers around 15 percent of the electoral space. At the all-India level, therefore, it is difficult for them to come to power unless they tag along with other communities. For BSP the upper caste Hindus are the biggest enemies. The BSP voters go to vote for defeating the upper caste Hindu forces. For the BJP voters, the Muslims and Christians are the enemies and they come out to vote to defeat all those, who wish the Muslims and Christians well.

Unfortunately for the Congress, they do not have a clear cut and well defined enemy at the moment. Earlier the voters were reminded of the struggle of the Congress against the British, but now that the British have left a long time ago, it is difficult to persuade the voters to come and vote. Therefore, it is very necessary for the Congress to connect itself directly to pre-1947 period. ... to Gandhi and Nehru. This connection can be somehow maintained only if they stick to the Nehru dynasty as if they have to connect clectric transmission lines from Nehru to Indira, Indira to Rajiv    and Sonia, and Rahul and Priyanka thereafter. They cannot afford to forget the sacrifices of Nehru against the British enemy and, therefore, the dynasty has to continue. They don't have a visible enemy at the moment to  fight against and to win elections. So, they have to create an enemy in anti Congress forces like BJP. They have to give a clarion call to the voters to defeat the BJP. This appeal will be music to the ears of Muslims and Christians, who together form 16 percent of the population. The Congress can bank on this as their committed space and seek 24 percent more votes from Hindus and Sikhs taking them back to the Nehru era. By raising slogans of good governance and development, this gap cannot be bridged. The party has, therefore, to remain wedded permanently to the Nehru family.

A similar situation prevails in Tamil Nadu and J&k. The fight against the Aryan/North Indian parties makes the Dravidian voters stick to DMK leaders like Karunaniddhi, Stalin, Dayanidhi, Murasoli Maran, Kanimozhi. Sheikh Abdullah is another Nehru like figure in J&K, who fought against the Dogra Maharaja enemy and spearheaded a movement for plebisite in J&K through Mahaz-e-raishumari. He also founded a dynasty and Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah are the links to the pre 1947 era when the Kashmiris fought against the Hindu Dogras and also the Indians for preserving their Kashmiri identity.

Under these circumstances in many areas of India dynastic rule has become a necessity. The BJP and the Left parties do not need this because they have clear cut enemies and a well defined jurisdiction in the electoral space. We therefore cannot blame parties  like the Congress Party, the National Conference, DMK for dynastic politics.

Parties like BSP and BJD will also need dynasties later but they have a problem since Mayavati and Naveen Patnaik are unmarried.

(The author is former Financial Commissioner J&K.)

Courtesy: Daily Excelsior