The domination of a particular family for years and from generation to generation in a political party is like what existed during the Mughal empire.
Amidst 14 Opposition parties, including Congress, Trinamool Congress, Shiv Sena, NCP, DMK, RJD, SP, BSP and Left, boycotted the 'Constitution Day' programme at the Central Hall of Parliament, accusing the government of defying the constitution and destroying democracy. The Prime Minister on occasion launched a blistering attack on this Congress-led opposition parties for boycotting the celebrations and termed it as an insult to Baba Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, the chief architect of the constitution and to far-sighted personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and Veer Savarkar who made sacrifices during the freedom struggle. He emphasized that spirit and every section of the constitution were hurt when political parties shed their democratic character. He further hit out at political dynasts and said parties controlled by the same family for generations posed a threat to a healthy democracy. These parties do not have internal democracy and are not capable of protecting democracy.
India's political system is replete with cases of power being viewed as a cherished family heirloom to be dusted off, polished and handed down to sons, daughters, spouses and grandchildren with an apology or embarrassment. For almost 70 years, rather than being a democracy, we've become an oligarchy where a political caste took charge and then kept everybody else out of the process. This trend toward dynasties goes right to the very top of the country's politics. The Gandhi-Nehru family emerged as the most powerful political dynasty in post-Independence India. The journey began when Pandit Motilal Nehru connivingly made his son Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress party President, Gandhi's most trusted aide, and his successor with utmost prudence. By doing this, he not only placed the future of independent India in the grabs of his family, but also conveniently overtook the more deserving, capable and dedicated leaders, like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Gandhi wanted no role for Congress as a political party post-independence. However, this was not the case; instead, Congress grabbed the legacy of the freedom struggle, and Pandit Nehru made Congress his fiefdom. Giving institutional legitimacy to this vassalage, he made his only child, Indira Gandhi, the Congress President in 1958. After that, the Congress journey with Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is well known. Next in the pipeline is Priyanka Gandhi, ready to take the baton from her brother, Rahul Gandhi. While in the wings, her son Rehan Gandhi Vadra is also being groomed to take over the party's helm in the near future.
While the Nehru-Gandhi family may be the most prominent of the nation's political dynasties, but Congress is not solely the paragon. Today, there are many regional parties controlled and run by a particular family in India. These family-run parties have a pan-India presence from Jammu and Kashmir to Tamil Nadu. It can be cited from every part of the nation-the Mulayam Singh-Yadav family (SP) in Uttar Pradesh; Karunanidhi family (DMK) in Tamil Nadu; Abdullah and Mufti Family in Jammu and Kashmir; in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan's family (LJP) and Lalu Prasad Yadav's family (RJD), HD Deve Gowda's family (JDS) in Karnataka, Thackrey's family (Shiv Sena) and Sharad Pawar's family (NCP). The other political dynasties that populate the Indian electoral scene post-Independence are the Badal's in Punjab, Patnaik's in Orissa, Telangana Rashtra Samithi in Telangana, and YSR Congress in AP, including smaller parties like Apna Dal, Lok Janshakti Party, AIMIM, etc. This list is very long and covers a large part of the political map of India. From the Yadavs to the Abdullahs and Karunanidhis, everyone took a cue from the Gandhis and made politics a family business. Rashtriya Janata Dal and Samajwadi Party have also set unprecedented records of pauperism. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and BSP supremo Mayawati have also taken steps to hand over the reins of their party to their respective nephews. In the South, the Marans constantly have to divide the spoils equitably between a network of children, step-children, nephews and nieces. Only the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist parties, JD (U) and the budding Aam Aadmi Party survive this Pan-India trend of family fiefdoms. The two Prime Ministers BJP gave to India, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shri Narendra Modi, were the tallest politicians of their generation. Today, this can happen in merit-based parties, not in dynastic parties.
If there is no wrong for a doctor parent to aspire his children to follow his footsteps, taking up medicine as his profession in the future, a businessman's child to take forward his business legacy to the next level, an Army man's son to add another sacrifice to the sovereignty of India, the legal profession, which continues to be a bastion of a few privileged and powerful families, then why not political leaders may see their children as flag bearers of their political legacy? Because running a nation is not merely a profession, it demands much more. There has to be an actual competent candidate to shoulder the gravity of governing a country like India. How could one be conferred with unbridled power and unaccountable wealth just because of one's pre-destined birth in a particular family?
Dynastic politics are endangering the concept of democratic socialism assured by the constitution, and it simultaneously aggravates corruption and fascism in the Indian political system. The socialism of the successors of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, who gave the slogan of non- Congress ism and non-dynast ism is also no different from Congress. All the regional parties that have emerged from the socialist and Sampurn Kranti movement are private fiefs of a particular family or operate as private companies. In either case, high-handedness and dictatorship are prevailing under the covers of democracy. The democracy of these parties is the modern version of feudalism. There is neither respect nor empathy towards the ordinary party worker's feelings, aspirations, or views. Many supporters accept subjugation because of the ability of the dynasty to put them in positions of power and status. Family-specific sycophancy is the only ladder to success in these parties. Political exile for those who cannot follow the family is a dark reality. Ultimately, in dynastic parties, one has to accept political slavery.
In these parties, the president's election, the national convention, the executive meeting, etc., are all staged dramas meant to mislead the gullible public. Everything has been predetermined and pre-decided in the family drawing room of the dynasts. Although there is much noise about words like public, democracy, the constitution, in all their party meets and discussion but, in reality, it's just a farce. The idiom 'a honey tongue, a heart of gall' is most appropriate to explain the situation. There are multiple reasons for this failure of dynastic politics. By definition, patronage politics entails the inefficient use of state resources to reward clients. Besides, deterioration of political ability is inevitable.
Debate and dialogue are the primary essences of democracy. Democracy stems and matures from them. However, the present political scenario does not offer any room for dissent and criticism. The discussion space is constantly shrinking. Shrinking of this space is equivalent to suffocating democracy. Although most political parties engage in throttling democracy, the dynastic parties are the torchbearers in this arena.
These dynastic political parties are 'Party run by the family, for the family, and by the family'. This unique feature of dynastic parties mocks the very definition of democracy given by Abraham Lincoln. These parties do not commit to the constitution, constitutional institutions, and obligations and have no interest in public welfare or nation-building. All this is deceit and its mere veil of power-acquisition and selfishness. The domination of a particular family for years and from generation to generation in a political party is like what existed during the Mughal empire. Though Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family are responsible for dynastic rule post-independence, we, ordinary citizens, are no less guilty. Lack of interest from the citizens in identifying and exposing the dynasties who flaunted democracy led to their flourishment. The result is that today, almost all the regional parties follow dynastic rules propagated by the largest party in the country. This trend is getting worse and is spreading rampantly across the length and breadth of our country, which is evident from the representation we currently have in our Parliament, assemblies and village Panchayats. It is natural for the parties to trample the people's sentiment and voice in such a situation. This prohibits the entry of new ideas, new energy and new faces.
Thus, the regular emergence of independent, dynamic and competent leadership is an essential condition for the growth of democracy, which is absent in a dynastic political environment. It is necessary to free Indian democracy from the clutches of dynastic politics. An educated civil society and the aware public should break these delusions by understanding the real purpose of democracy and mobilizing the masses against it. It now depends on the people of India. We need to stoke our disenchantment, our disillusionment. We need to voice how we feel. Coming out of the Nuckles of Nepotism is when democracy will flourish, and the concept of the welfare state can sustain itself in its truest sense. True democracy would prevail when people from all walks of life will get an equal opportunity to show their potential in making this nation great. There wouldn't be any concentration of power and wealth limited to a few. After that, democracy will not merely be a hollow slogan, but crucial a factor for social empowerment and national development.
(The author is Dean, Students; Welfare, Central University of Jammu)