The debate whether India should be a dynastic democracy has been ignited by a self-goal of the Congress Party. The Prime Minister’s mother’s age was made a subject matter of the electoral debate. His father’s anonymity was commented upon as an inadequate credential of the Prime Minister. The argument given was that if you represent the legacy of a well-known family, it is a political point in your favour. Millions of talented political workers who come from modest family backgrounds would fail by the Congress test of leadership. Merit, talent, ability to inspire and lead would not be a virtue. The Congress considers only a great surname as a political brand.
On hearing this rationale, I asked a few well informed friends of mine three questions:
None of my well informed friends had a definitive answer. This is the tragedy of Congress politics and its impact on the nation. Gandhiji led the most extraordinary freedom movement of India. He created, through political awareness, Satyagraha and non-violence, an environment where British found it impossible to continue in India. Sardar Patel’s contribution was second to none. Besides being a frontline leader of the freedom movement, he, as the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India, negotiated the transfer of power with the British. He negotiated the integration of India with over 550 rulers. He gave to India, within a short period of few months, its present geography. Incidentally, Gandhiji’s father was Karamchand Uttamchand Gandhi, Sardar Patel’s father was Jhaverbhai Patel and his wife’s name was Diwali Ba. No photograph of his wife or her details are available even after extensive research by modern day historians.
The Officially Glamorised Family
The reason for this is simple. Decades of Congress rule, naming colonies, localities, cities, bridges, airports, railway stations, schools, colleges, universities, stadiums after one family was intended to declare the ‘Gandhis’ as India’s royalty. They were ‘officially glamorised’ as the blue blooded family of India. The others did not matter. In fact, upon Sardar Patel’s death in Mumbai, Prime Minister Nehru requested many of his cabinet colleagues that the best tribute to the Sardar would be to work on the day of his funeral and not go to Mumbai. The then Head of State and several Union Ministers defied the advice. The proposal for building his statue at Vijay Chowk was rejected. The country had to be satisfied with the installation of his statue at a traffic round-about on Parliament Street.
Many believe that Sardar Patel was a farmer leader because of his participation in Bardoli Satyagraha. On the contrary, he was one of Ahmedabad’s most successful practicing Barristers. Panditji is passed off as a great lawyer though he never argued a single case in his entire career. He only went to court once for reasons of tokenism to sit behind senior lawyers led by Bholabhai Desai who was arguing for the three INA officers in the mutiny trial inside the Red Fort.
The danger of Glamorising at the Cost of Others
The dangers of officially glamorising one family at the cost of those who made a far greater contribution is dangerous both for the nation as also for the party to which they belong. The contribution of other great stalwarts like Patel and Subhash Chandra Bose is downplayed. Members of one family are projected as larger than life. Their aberrations become national aberrations. The party adopts them as its ideology. When Panditji promoted his daughter as his successor, he laid the foundation of India as a dynastic democracy. When the daughter, in 1975, turned dictatorial, it became the party’s ideology to convert India into a “disciplined democracy”. When the Sikh were massacred in 1984, communal polarisation against them was considered a legitimate electoral strategy. Today anti-BJPsm leads the Congress to a situation where it can tie up even with its political rivals and sympathise with the Maoists, separatists and disruptionists.
The country pays a price for dynastic policies as we have witnessed in several regions. Three families – two of them in Srinagar and one in New Delhi in the last 71 years, have played with the destiny of Jammu and Kashmir. The consequences are obvious. Following the dynastic pattern of leadership within the Congress, several other parties have followed the same principle. In such organisations there is no inner party democracy, there are no ideological principles. There is a complete flexibility to switch sides and align with your erstwhile political opponents. In Andhra Pradesh, NTR filled up the political vacuum and created an alternative to the Congress. Gradually the party went into a control of the present Chief Minister who is willing to switch sides in every general election. There is no second line of leadership and the option offered is of “a coalition of rivals”.
The political parties in question also pay a price. The only leaders who have a political future are the ones which are acceptable to the leaders of the dynastic parties. You fall foul of the family, you are thrown out of the party or marginalised. Talent has no space. Merit is no virtue. Organisational structure need not exist. The charisma of the family alone is the party’s vote bank. The crowd around the family is the cadre.
The Weakness of the Dynastic Parties
This model, however, has one significant weakness. Strength of the party is co-existent with the strength of the current generation of the dynasty. If he is found to be non-inspirational or inadequate in leadership, the party has to throw all its eggs in an incomplete basket. The basket may be worth only 44 Lok Sabha seats, at times slightly less; at times slightly more. The ill-informed reactions of the leader become the new ideology. The silver lining, however, is that India is changing. It has very large middle class and very strong aspirational class aspiring to get into the middle classes. This aspirational India judges parties and leaders very harshly. They don’t accept whoever is imposed. They ask difficult and penetrating questions and their yardstick is very tough. They look for leaders of integrity, they look for men and women who can inspire them, who are decisive and can lead the nation. To them surnames don’t matter – competence and capacity does.
The Challenge of 2019
The real strength of Indian democracy would be when the charismas of some families is completely shattered and parties, through a democratic process, throw up leaders of merit and competence. This was more than adequately proved in 2014 where most dynastic parties lost miserably. India of 2019 is different from India of 1971. If the Congress Party wants the 2019 elections to be between Prime Minister Modi, who is the son of lesser known parents and someone who is known only for his parentage rather than capacity, merit and competence, the BJP would gladly accept the challenge. Let this be the agenda for 2019.