Dynastic politics: BJP feeds the monster while claiming to spear it
The party taps the advantages of nepotism for its own gains even as it mocks its rivals; the number of dynast MPs has grown since 2014
Much as in every election since 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other BJP star campaigners have asked the voters in the five poll-bound States — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa — to reject the promoters of dynastic politics, the ones who think of ‘benefit for one family’ and not of ‘benefit for the nation.’
Will they succeed? Have they succeeded in clipping the wings of dynastic politics in their eight-year-old campaign? The answer is no.
On the contrary, dynastic politics has been growing. It has captured more islands in India’s political archipelago. In 2014, as many as 114 of the 543 members of the Lok Sabha came from political dynasties. In 2019, there were 162 of them. In percentage terms, dynasts occupied 9 per cent more seats in the House of the People in 2019 than they did in 2014.
The BJP’s campaign could not stop dynasts taking over power in several States. The chief ministers of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand are all dynasts. Where the dynasts are not in power, they are in the Opposition and waiting for their chance.
There are as many dynastic parties in the country today as monkeys in Lord Ram’s army — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Shiv Sena, the YSR Congress Party, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, the Indian National Lok Dal, the Jannayak Janata Party, the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, the Lok Janshakti Party, the Nishad Party, the Apna Dal (Kamerawadi), the Apna Dal (Sonelal) and so on.
Not to leave out the Indian National Congress of course, the grandmother of all dynasties, as also the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is the newest baby to announce blood would bear the burden of the baton.
Immense contribution of BJP to the trend
But if dynastic politics is flourishing in the country, the BJP’s contribution — its holy anti-dynasty mission notwithstanding — is immense, too. A study found that as many as 45 of the 388 BJP members of Parliament in 2020 were dynasts, making up 11 per cent of all.
The party currently has MPs in Parliament who are sons of former Chief Ministers — Anurag Thakur, Dushyant Singh, BY Raghavendra, Rajbir Singh, and Parvesh Verma. It has MPs who are sons and daughters of former Union Ministers — Jayant Sinha, Poonam Mahajan, and Pritam Munde. Crowning the BJP’s hypocrisy on dynastic politics was its acceptance of descendants of the erstwhile royal families as MPs, such as Udayanraje Bhosale, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sanajaoba Leishamba.
Clearly, the BJP was feeding the monster while pretending to be spearing it.
To cover up its hypocrisy, the party has come up with a new theory which redefines dynastic politics as it suits its purpose. It was Modi who gave this new theory in his Constitution Day speech on November 26, 2021. He said there was nothing wrong if members of a family occupy political offices. What was wrong, he said, was one family running a party for generations — that was a danger to democracy.
It was nothing but a lame attempt to advance a claim that the dynastic politics the BJP was promoting was benign, while that promoted by the Congress and the regional parties was malign. The well-accepted definition of a dynastic politician is one who is related by blood or marriage to someone who has held political office before. If we go by that definition, a Piyush Goyal, a Nirmala Sitharaman or a Jyotiraditya Scinda is as much a dynastic politician as a Rahul Gandhi or an MK Stalin or an Uddhav Thackeray. The difference could be in the size of the island of the political archipelago they control, not in their political being as an avatar of a dynasty.
The many hues of nepotism
When the Congress relies on a Rahul Gandhi and the BJP relies on an Anurag Thakur, both are guided by the same consideration: to profit from their dynastic capital. Thakur’s appeal might be limited to a few constituencies in Himachal Pradesh and Rahul’s might be much wider, but the scale does not alter the essence of their appeal. They are wearing the same perfume.
Both enjoy the same advantages. They have had exposure to politics since childhood on account of their fathers holding high public offices. As they grew up, they became familiar with the organisations, networks and connections of their fathers. Their names and faces were easily recognised by the workers and supporters of their fathers and the people at large.
People who loved their fathers began to see their fathers’ shadow in them and developed a love for them too as a result. They also developed a belief that because of their being sons of the leaders of their adulation, they too had far greater knowledge and expertise in statecraft than those who had no such lineage. That lowered the entry barriers to politics for them and that continues to be the essential metabolism of their political being.
As is clear, the political being of the dynast rests on the pedestal of people’s adulation. And people’s adulation rests on two traditional Indian values: one, that gyan (knowledge) and yogyata (ability) are passed on from generation to generation. And two, that it is a sacred duty of the parents to ensure that it happens. To the masses, nepotism is a virtue, not a vice.
Even now goldsmiths inherit shops from their fathers. Sons of farmers inherit their farms, sons of businessmen do their businesses. People have made Ranbir Kapoor, a fourth-generation descendant of the Kapoor clan, a star. How could people see succession in political families as immoral when they see succession in other vocational families as moral?
Social legitimacy of succession
All parties take advantage of the social legitimacy of succession. Even the BJP does so. Much like other parties, the BJP prefers someone from a political dynasty as a candidate because they have a big advantage owing to social legitimacy, social recognition and a readymade mass base. If the BJP were truly opposed to dynastic politics, it should have been rejecting dynasts and nominating candidates purely on merit.
Politics today has become the fastest road to wealth. It is the king of all professions, because it gives one the power and privilege to dominate over people of other professions — business, farming, medicine, engineering, teaching, government service — and hence it has become the most sought-after profession for anyone who is capable of using all kinds of means to get people’s votes.
It is hardly a matter of surprise that the wives, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, cousins and even in-laws of the founder of a dynasty are tempted to become MPs and MLAs. In the 75 years of democratic politics, we have seen the trend stream down two or three generations in several cases. The dynasts find it much easier to grow in politics than the average aspirant. Dynasts are carving out political estates for themselves from where they get elected time and time again by eliminating alternative leadership and distributing favours.
That is dangerous and that is a growing trend. The number of political dynasties is rising. And the BJP is aiding the trend, not fighting it, as it claims. Let us not forget that the BJP has not only been nominating dynasts for seats in Parliament and State legislatures but also been allying with dynastic parties — the SAD, the Shiv Sena, the People’s Democratic Party, the Lok Janshakti Party and the Jannayak Janata Party. If the party were truly wedded to the cause of annihilating dynastic politics it should have rejected dynasts and dynastic parties as untouchable.
The BJP still has room to prove it is truly wedded to the cause. It has the majority in Parliament. It should make an anti-dynasty law barring members of the families of men or women who have held public office from joining politics.
(Arun Sinha is an independent journalist and the author of ‘Nitish Kumar and the Rise of Bihar’.)