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30 April, 2014

Proliferation of political dynasties

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Congress which has dominated the Indian political scene since before Independence has drawn much flak for its dependence on the Nehru-Gandhis but dynasties are flourishing in every party and region. What’s more, new ones keep coming up.

When the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was called upon to form the government in 2004 the party president, Sonia Gandhi, who was under attack for her foreign origin, picked Manmohan Singh for the prime minister’s post. Since he lacked a political base, she was seen as the real power centre.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi’s promotion from general secretary to vice-president last year followed an orchestrated demand by Nehru-Gandhi loyalists that he assume a bigger role in the party and government. If there is another UPA government he is almost certain to head it.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial nominee, has repeatedly alluded to dynastic succession in the Congress. In campaign speeches he has referred to the party as ‘mother-son duo’ and to Rahul Gandhi as ‘shehzada’.

Rahul belongs to the fifth generation of the dynasty whose history begins with Motilal Nehru’s entry into the Congress during the freedom struggle. Both Motilal and his son, Jawaharlal, served as president of the organisation. Their closeness to Mahatma Gandhi prompted Quaid-e-Azam Muhammed Ali Jinnah to refer to the trio as “father, son and the holy ghost”.

Facts do not fully back the widely held theory that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, groomed his daughter, Indira Gandhi, to succeed him. In the 1950s, he had sought to bring the Socialists, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, iconic hero of the Quit India movement, back into the Congress fold. Had the effort succeeded, as the most adored leader of his generation, Jayaprakash Narayan was sure to become the top contender in any succession battle. Also, shortly before his death, Nehru boosted Lal Bahadur Shastri’s succession prospects by bringing him into the Cabinet as Minister without folio to help him.

On Shastri’s death, the Congress party’s powerful state bosses preferred Indira Gandhi to Morarji Desai for the prime minister’s post as they reckoned, quite rightly, that she was a better vote-catcher than him and presumed, quite wrongly, that she would abide by their wishes. She paved the way for dynastic rule by promoting, first, her younger son Sanjay and, on his death in an air accident, the elder son Rajiv.

When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, his wife Sonia stayed away from public life with her children, giving the Congress an opportunity to shake off the hold of the dynasty if it so desired. She assumed the party’s leadership a few years later in response to a strong demand from within. The party needs the dynasty as much as the dynasty needs the party.

The Congress has several minor dynasties too at various levels. Other national and regional parties also having thrown up dynasties, their number is legion. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty towers above the rest, primarily due to the wide national appeal of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The appeal of the lesser dynasties is limited to specific states or even parts of states.

The roots of dynastic appeal lie in the feudal tradition. The BJP has the least moral justification for railing against the tradition since it has the biggest collection of dispossessed maharajas and maharanis. It has also taken on board dropouts from Congress dynasties.

Sanjay Gandhi’s wife, Maneka, who was by his side as he functioned as an extra-constitutional authority during the Emergency, and son Varun, and former Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson Najma Heptullah, who is a grand-niece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, are among the prominent Congress defectors in its ranks.

Last week, in Modi’s presence, the BJP admitted into the party Daljit Singh Kohli, a little known businessman of Amritsar, whose only claim to fame is that he is a half-brother of Manmohan Singh, whom it has castigated as the worst prime minister in the country’s history.

Even the fledgling Aam Admi Party has its share of dynastic remnants. Its Lok Sabha candidates include Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Adarsh Shastri, a grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Mercifully, dynastic appeal has its limits. Voters have demonstrated their ability to rise above it. In 1977, the illiterate people of Uttar Pradesh had decisively rejected the Emergency regime, defeating both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi in the elections. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 29, 2014.

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