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October 28, 2007
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October 28, 2007

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Home > 2007 Issues > October 28, 2007

The Moving Finger Writes

India and Dynasticism

By M.V. Kamath

To a party which has no young leaders of standing, Rahul seems the obvious candidate. It is calculated dynasticism of a kind, but what is remarkable is that there is hardly any voice raised. Sycophancy rules the roost. One, of course, does not know what would have happened if Indira had lived long enough though Sanjay Gandhi would still have been around.

There is a great deal about India and Indianness that defies analysis. In a way Indians are hardcore traditionalists and dynastic-minded. The concept of the rule of the people by the people and for the people is largely alien to them. They are more comfortable with rule of the people by dynastic rulers, good or bad which excuses them from taking the trouble to make a choice between conflicting candidates. That is why for centuries they have been ruled by rajas and maharajas, nawabs and sultans in feudal splendour, without a single squeak.

Indians, it seems, like continuity and are uncomfortable with change. A Maharaja of Travancore might have considered himself the servant of God, but he was an exception. Dynastic rule was the prevailing custom everywhere and this was taken for granted whether in Rajasthan, Baroda, Kolhapur, Sangli, Hyderabad, Travancore or Cochin to name only a few major ?kingdoms?. Maharajas were not voted in. Their rule was generational. The people expected Ramrajya, even if they didn?t get it. Some prided themselves as Suryavanshis and Chandravanshis, descended from the Sun and the Moon, to gain dynastic credibility.

When the British came on the scene, while they were careful not to upset rulers, Lord Dalhousie, the Governor General of India between 1848 and 1856, introduced what was called the Doctrine of Lapse which laid down that if a ruler was either ?manifestly incompetent or died without an heir? his state would automatically be annexed by the East India Company. Under that rule the princely states of Satara (1848), Sambalpur (1849), Nagpur and Jhansi (1854) and Awadh (1856) were annexed without much ado. That was one way of destroying dynasticism and bringing the entire country under British sway. But the rule came to be reversed which is one reason why Queen Victoria came to be respected. The Indians could look up to Royalty as a cornerstone of stability. This mindset, unfortunately, has been showing signs of continuity in India long after the country became free even after princely rulers voluntarily abdicated and dynasticism became a thing of the past.

When Pandit Motilal Nehru sought to put pressure on Mahatma Gandhi to name his fledgling son Jawaharlal as presidential candidate of the Lahore Congress in 1929?the year in which Congress sought full independence?he could not have dreamt that he was setting up a dynasty. Motilal had been president of the UP Kisan Sabha in 1921; with the passing of the years Jawaharlal started to outshine his father and by 1936, according to B.R. Nanda, ?his name was something to conjure with among the masses as well as the intelligentsia?. He had undoubtedly made great sacrifices. One of his longest spells in jail lasted 1,170 days between December 1931 and September 1935. It was again Gandhi who secured Jawaharlal?s election to the presidency of the 1936 Congress. Between August 1942 and June 1945 Jawaharlal spent some 1,084 days again in jail and few people had made such sacrifices. In October 1945 Gandhi wrote to Jawaharlal: ?I am now an old man? I have now named you as my heir. I must, however, understand my heir and my heir should understand me.? Gandhi described him as truthful beyond suspicion, a knight sans peur et sans reproche. Rabindranath Tagore hailed him as Rituraj ?representing the season of youth and triumphant joy of invincible spirit?.

When Jawaharlal died he had not nominated Indira Gandhi as his successor. As Kalyani Shankar, in her book India and the United States, Politics of the Sixties writes, ?Nehru never projected anyone as his successor and was confident that the Congress Party would choose correctly, which it did.? Indeed, as Lal Bahadur Shastri?s biographer, C.P. Srivatsava wrote: Nehru?s public position was that the Congress should be free to choose his successor, as he did not want the stigma of promoting dynastic rule?, though, according to Dharmaveera, Nehru?s Principal Secretary ?Nehru was building up Indira Gandhi for the position of Prime Minister but thought in 1963-64 that she was not ready for the job?. In 1984 when she was assassinated, neither was Rajiv Gandhi ready for his job but was anointed to the Prime Ministership by Congressmen behaving like ?headless chicken? with an inept Congress President, Sitaram Kesari hovering around with hardly any standing in the party. In sheer desperation, Congress chose Rajiv Gandhi as his mother?s successor and the story goes that Sonia, his wife, tried hard to dissuade him from taking up that onerous task. Rajiv Gandhi?s assassination left the Congress in yet more confusion, though it quickly overcame it. At least there was a seasoned politician like P.V. Narasimha Rao around to pick up the threads. Now the Congress is stuck. Sonia Gandhi has tasted power and how else can it be exercised except through her son?

Congress has no leaders. Certainly no youthful leaders who have it in them to lead India. So Rahul is being openly groomed. Jawaharlal may have been in jail for some twelve years, though he was not alone, since there were hundreds who made even greater sacrifices. But Jawaharlal was Gandhi?s boy and even leaders like Vallabhbhai Patel accepted the Mahatma?s choice. Indira Gandhi had to wait till Shastri died and even then she had to face a tussle. Presently to a party which has no young leaders of standing, Rahul seems the obvious candidate. It is calculated dynasticism of a kind, but what is remarkable is that there is hardly any voice raised. Sycophancy rules the roost. One, of course, does not know what would have happened if Indira had lived long enough though Sanjay Gandhi would still have been around. Rahul Gandhi?s empowerment presently is an insult to Congress, but who can blame Sonia Gandhi?

The Congress has become a party of nonentities, eager to eat out of her hands. Sacrifice means nothing to anyone. The 21st century is the age of power-seekers. And blatant sycophants. Sadly, there is no Kamraj Nadar or anyone of his stature to handle party politics. Principles are for the birds. The fall from a Rajagopalachari to Karunanidhi, from Ramakrishna Hegde to a Deve Gowda is there for all to see. From Motilal to Jawaharlal to Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi and now to an Italian-born Sonia Gandhi has been a long journey. Rahul Gandhi, an inquiry into whose scholarly achievements are best not looked too deeply into is expected to rise to the top unchallenged.

The Nehru dynasty, it seems, is being thrust on India, almost by accident. It was not a pre-planned thing. Circumstances make history. But does that mean we must necessarily accept fate as the guiding factor in our political growth? Is Congress so poor in its constituency that a nation of 1.2 billion people cannot provide it leadership apart from the Nehru dynasty? Have Congressmen all become headless chicken? One suspects that there should be a new variation of the Doctrine of Lapse that insists that dynasticism is unacceptable under any circumstances. But then who has the courage to stand up for a principle? Where, O where are the Vallabhbhais the Rajajis, the Kripalanis, not to speak of the Khers, the Pants and the B.C. Roys of yesteryears? The youngsters in politics today are sons of the rich and the powerful. With them in a cabal, talent has a poor chance to rise to the top. India is surely in for rule of mediocrities by mediocrities. Bharat Mata ki Jai!

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