THE Republic of India is undergoing a blatant and quite public transformation into a quasi monarchy. The process was inadvertently begun by Jawaharlal Nehru, the supposed democrat who doubted the capacity of any other Indian but himself to rule. Though his daughter proved to be a formidable leader she was unable to resist the temptation to enthrone her heirs. The institutional consolidation of their dynasty is set to occur between 2014 and 2019.
In order for monarchical rule to be implanted in India it will prove necessary to interlink dynastic kingship with India’s contemporary history, which means its tiresome and raucous democracy. However, democracy in India lacks substantive content in any case and is basically a moment for the exercise of illusory citizen power, only designed to legitimise the established order. For the overwhelming majority of Indians it means little because hunger and gross deprivation are a daily experience for which the many cannot be voting. Fundamentally, India is a shamelessly lawless society in which crude political and personal power and money determine most outcomes.
Historically, monarchies have not all encountered the same set of political choices to institutionalise their supremacy. What they all do have in common is the hereditary principle. Nevertheless, retaining the acquiescence of the people of the country ruled, however grudging, is a necessity without which a ruling regime can be overthrown. A different monarchical family may replace incumbents or indeed a republic may result. In India’s case, for monarchy to become securely established it will be necessary to both manage and finesse electoral outcomes and curb popular protest, in addition to eliminating political challengers. The first resultant goal for India’s nascent monarchy will be to isolate electoral outcomes from underlying popular dissatisfaction and protest. The latter will need to be treated as inconvenient defiance to be quelled by direct economic intervention to bribe leaders of protest groups and their immediate supporters or use of force when unavoidable.
The second critical factor that will facilitate dynastic rule is the virtually unchecked subversion of Indian elections and the ostensible democratic process through overwhelming economic power. This is the real device for consolidating the Nehru dynasty’s primacy and has already begun on a massive scale. Two of India’s most outstanding parliamentarians, in Maharashtra and UP were eliminated in 2009 by the deployment of vast financial resources to purchase the election outright in their constituencies. Money didn’t just talk, it unceremoniously decapitated rivals and that alone will truly count in most Indian electoral constituencies! India’s new found wealth has enabled the Nehru dynasty, of which the Congress party itself is now a trivial appendage, and the State apparatus they control, to successfully extract financial support from major business houses.
Powerful business interests, in turn, are permitted to operate unhindered and that includes being allowed to engage in looting the public purse through various forms of criminal subversion, usually in direct alliance with political players. This type of misconduct has become pretty much institutionalised and little consequential adverse comment against the most egregious acts of grand larceny is perceptible. India’s political parties themselves have also pioneered a novel phenomenon by becoming family businesses that happen to engage in political activity. These two aspects of socio-political identity merge to constitute a relatively stable form of organisation, with staying power. It only additionally needs requisite Machiavellian political and administrative acumen to outwit political competitors indefinitely. But it may still fail because such a dynastic process can succumb to stasis and decay.
The co-existence of large and small political dynasties occurs because one dynastic family finds it difficult to achieve a complete monopoly of political power. Instead political power and the huge economic rewards it brings invariably have to be shared with regional feudatories and warlords in most societies. Even all-powerful absolute monarchs in history had to accept the presence of powerful noble families within the realm and treat them with a degree of circumspection. Some are even long term allies for various reasons, ranging from pragmatic alliances and ties of blood to ideological commonality. This is possibly why the Congress displays unusual solicitude towards the Christian evangelist sponsored DMK despite its monumental greed and arrogant presumptuousness. But that insouciance does not extend to troublesome foes or inconvenient political allies, poised to be neutralised in States like UP and Bengal.
As an aside it may be noted that the political and administrative arrangements being put in place by the Nehru dynasty wisely include a cadre of professional managers, recruited locally and internationally. It is they who manage the multifarious portfolio of interests of the dynasty. The sheer complexity of Indian political and economic life demands it should be so. In dramatic contrast, the small town amateurism of the erstwhile national political rival to Congress has proved fatal for its political ambitions.
However, political rivals and assorted regional parties and their leaders will not disappear completely, but will be discreetly turned into pliant retainers of the dynasty. They will remain a minor distraction, but useful nevertheless for ideological legitimacy because democratic pretensions and elections will persist. In fact, already, many leaders of the opposition have quietly acquiesced in their subordinate status and defer to the dynasty in manifold symbolic and substantive ways. In exchange an increasingly wealthy Indian polity provides sufficient gratification for alleged political leaders manifestly unfitted for any sort of remunerated employment.
Furthermore, the wide powers of governmental agencies are being deployed to gather evidence on their personal conduct and that is being used to assure their silence when necessary. They are allowed to criticise, but some things are out of bounds and a loyal political opposition conforms to injunctions communicated by functionaries of the dynasty. Gujarat, CM Narendra Modi is apparently an exception, but decisive steps are being taken to extinguish this irritant to dynastic serenity.
The politics of Naxalism, caste, Islamic terrorism etc. are regarded as mere issues that have to be managed. As a corollary dynastic interests have supplanted national security and the integrity of India. Prominent advisers to the ruling family with Naxal sympathies have apparently convinced the dowager not to unleash decisive military force against the Maoist criminal fraternity, but to reach an understanding and use them against political rivals.
Significantly, some virulently anti-Indian foreign publications like the Financial Times and the London Economist are urging forbearance in the treatment of Naxalites. It may also be surmised that fear for the personal safety of members of the dynasty and its extended wider international family may have counselled caution in dealing with Islamic terror and its Pakistani sponsors. Delivering crushing military blows against Islamic Jihadis has therefore been constrained by dynastic priorities.
Of course mobilising minority votes enduringly in favour of the Nehru dynasty has always been an important strategic goal as UPA determination to extend and institutionalise their extraordinary privileges indicates. The indiscriminate appeasement of minority voters, by even allowing known Jihadis to operate freely, stems from the continuing unpredictability of caste voting behaviour despite the overweening potency of money in influencing electoral results. While overcoming the appeal of political rivals in the arena of caste divisions remains a crucial goal, minority community votes provide interim relief. Interestingly, the latter are the only remaining ideological constituency in Indian politics, essentially responsive to mosque injunctions and indifferent to secular gratifications like jobs and services when instructed on casting their votes.
In sum, India has resumed its ancient monarchical historical trajectory, with Sunni emperors ousting medieval Hindu kings, who were themselves eventually replaced by a Protestant merchant monarch, now poised to be succeeded by a Catholic dynasty after India’s brief Republican hiatus.
(The writer is a respected commentator on national affairs and has been teaching at Oxford University till recently.)