Dynastic politics holds sway in India

Though world's largest democracy, real power rests with certain political families who dominate the electoral scene.

    Rahul Gandhi is seen by many as India's future prime minister [AFP]

    When it comes to politics, India's politicians have tried to keep it all in the family. From the famed Nehru-Gandhi family to leaders of provincial parties, family lineage has almost always scored over merit.
    Out of the 65 years since independence, the Gandhi family has been directly or indirectly in power for more than 50 years. The story of India's democracy has mostly been scripted by the Gandhis.
    The state of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous and politically important, was once their bastion. Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the family, has been focusing all his attention to revive his party's fortune in this electorally crucial state.
    Jawahar lal Nehru, India's first PM, groomed his daughter Indira for the top job [GALLO/GETTY]

    Rahul's great-grandfather was the country's first prime minister, followed by his grandmother and his father.
    His Italian born mother, Sonia Gandhi, who currently heads the Congress party, chose Manmohan Singh to lead the country after winning the elections in 2004. But many believe the reins of power are actually vested in her.
    Rahul apparently is being groomed by his mother to lead the party in the future, and a good performance in Uttar Pradesh will further cement his position to claim the top post in the country.
    Varun Gandhi, Rahul's estranged cousin, is a member of parliament from the state. His famous surname ensured an easy passage for him to the parliament on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket.
    Varun’s father, Sanjay Gandhi, was a flamboyant politician of his time. He was originally billed to inherit the Gandhi family legacy, but died in a plane crash in 1980. When he died, his elder brother, Rajiv, stepped into his shoes and became the prime minister following Indira Gandhi's death.
    'Feudal society'
    Despite high growth and rising middle class influence in the last two decades, dynasty or personality-based politics continue to dominate Indian democracy.

    "The primary reasons for this phenomenon in India are the relative immaturity of the democratic process, the very nature of Indian society and the politics-business nexus and the large amounts of money involved in politics," Manoj Kewalramani, a Mumbai-based journalist and author of 'Voterfiles: A political Travelogue', told Al Jazeera.

    Mayawati, current Uttar Pradesh chief minister, runs her Bahujan Samaj party as one man show [AFP]

    "In such scenarios, there can hardly be space for serious thoughts on policies. There's a survival instinct and to be associated with what appears powerful. In many ways, Indian society continues to remain extremely feudal."
    The strands of dynastic politics have spread their tentacles over the years and a growing number of regional leaders are also running the parties like private limited companies.

    Uttar Pradesh is no exception to the trend. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the leader of the Samajwadi Party, hopes to wrest back power in the state and has chosen to inject youthfulness in the party by drafting in his son, Akhilesh, at the party's helm.

    Another important player in the state is Ajit Singh, the federal aviation minister. He heads his own outfit and is the son of a former prime minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh. Ajit Singh's son, Jayant, is a member of parliament and hopes to carry forward the family's legacy.

    In the state of Punjab, which is also holding elections, the main parties are dominated by rival clans.

    The ruling Akali Dal is led by incumbent chief minister Prakash Singh Badal and his deputy-chief minister son, Sukhbir Badal.

    Their main challenger this time round is the family of Captain Amarinder Singh, whose wife and son play key political roles.

    Comfort factor
    In the murky world of Indian politics, close relatives provide comfort to edgy politicians.

    Sanjay Gandhi, son of former PM Indira Gandhi, died in a plane crash in 1980 [GALLO/GETTY]

    After he was arrested over fraud, Lalu Yadav had no qualms installing his semi-literate wife Rabri Devi as the chief minister of the eastern state of Bihar some years ago.

    Family rule chugs from one generation to other, but what deters common people from joining the fray?

    Dr Ashok Acharya, Associate Professor, University of Delhi, told Al Jazeera: "We have a patronage politics due to lack of democracy at grassroots level, where people cannot rise through the rank," he said.

    "Common man does not want to enter the fray due to complexity of the system. The system disincentivises the new comers into politics."

    Identity and politics of symbolism have grown in the last couple of decades.

    "Caste, clan and religious mobilization has still impact," Dr Acharya said adding, as a result real issues like malnutrition, unemployment and poverty don’t form part of the political agenda.

    Follow Saif Khalid on Twitter: @msaifkhalid

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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