Dynastic politics has turned India into a feudal state


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16 Oct 2013

 
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The rot of dynastic politics

The day before hoardings appeared in Uttar Pradesh demanding that Priyanka Gandhi be given the Phulpur seat so that she could help her ‘sick’ mother and ‘overburdened’ brother I happened to be discussing dynastic democracy in the most unlikely place. I write this week from Japan and the discussion I speak of took place over lunch in a lovely garden that sat on a cliff high above the sunlit waters of the Pacific Ocean. This lunch party was in a seaside resort two hours from Tokyo where I had gone at the invitation of a Japanese friend who had also invited some of her friends among whom was a lady whose brother, father and grandfather had all been politicians. This information was revealed when I said that one of India’s biggest political problems was dynastic democracy. As it is a subject that I feel so deeply about that it inspired me to write my book Durbar I explained at some length how the example set by the Gandhi family was now being imitated right down to the village level and how most Indian political parties had become private limited companies.

The Japanese guests at lunch, in that garden filled with sunlight and sea breezes, allowed me to expound upon my theory for several minutes before someone pointed out that ‘political families’ were very much the norm in Japan. The present Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Kan Abe, and father Shintaro Abe, were both in politics and his wife Yoko Kishi is the daughter of former prime minister, Nobushe Kishi. “You see,” the lady from the political family explained, “what happens is that in some political constituencies they virtually insist upon a family member taking the seat because they associate the family’s power in politics with their own. So its not always such a bad thing.”

On the drive back to Tokyo I thought about this as we passed a coastline covered in massive power plants, ports and factories and drove on a modern highway through countryside that had remained pristine despite such visible signs of 21st century infrastructure. My thoughts went back to our own dear Bharat Mata and the wretchedness and decay that is the general mood of rural India and the squalor that is the defining characteristic of our cities. Perhaps, I would have been more accepting of dynastic democracy if India had looked more like Japan and less like a country in a deep state of despair and decline. It is hard not to blame India’s backwardness on the Dynasty that has ruled for most of our years as an independent nation and yet this is not what the Congress is ever able to do.

The rot of dynastic politicsSo in their concerted efforts to combat Narendra Modi’s thunderous campaign across the country they now appear ready to offer up what some Congress politicians privately describe as their ‘brahmastra’. This ultimate weapon is none other than Priyanka Gandhi hence the hoardings in Allahabad that appeared last week carrying these words along side pictures of the Gandhi family. ‘Maiya ab rehti beemar, Bhaiya par badh gaya bhaar, Priyanka Phulpur sey baney ummedwaar.’ Here is a literal translation: mother now remains sick, brother is now carrying a heavier load so Priyanka should be the candidate from Phulpur.

For those who may have forgotten, this used to be the constituency of Jawaharlal Nehru. So is this good enough reason for his great granddaughter to now inherit it? Has Priyanka shown any sign that she is worthy of being in public life? By the standards of the Gandhi family, she most certainly has. Anyone who has seen her campaigning will vouch for the fact that she is far more comfortable in the company or ordinary Indians than her parents or brother ever were. One reason is that her Hindi is excellent and this gives her the ability to converse spontaneously – an ability her brother has yet to acquire. She has charm and charisma and this, combined with the Gandhi name (let’s forget about Vadra for now) certainly qualifies her as much as it qualified any other member of her family. But, is this enough to make her a worthy opponent for Modi? To answer this we need first to analyse why Modi has become so popular outside Gujarat.

The Congress believes that the only reason for his popularity is that he has the support of the media and that he is very skilled at using the social media to convey his message. This is less than the whole truth. The real reason why Modi has developed such a huge persona on the national stage is because he is the first political leader in a very long time who is trying to say something new. Despite the best efforts of Congress to trap him in the meaningless debate about secularism and communalism he has managed to change the agenda and make the next general election about governance and a new vision for India. This appeals to young people in villages and towns across India who are painfully aware of what it is like to live without clean water, sanitation, electricity and jobs. When Modi talks about the need for governance to become more important than government this is what they understand as the things that good governance can give them. An older generation of Indian voters were easily swayed by the charisma of the Gandhi name but it has less resonance with younger voters. This is why Modi makes such a point of addressing younger voters and especially those who will be voting in 2014 for the first time.

Can Priyanka Gandhi find a way of countering this by repackaging her family and its supposed achievements and sacrifices? Can Rahul Gandhi? Can Sonia Gandhi? These are the only questions that are now being asked in Congress circles because everyone knows that the Dynasty is all that is left of India’s oldest political party. So whatever the Japanese experience with dynastic democracy there is no question that where India is concerned it has done more harm than good. It has attracted to public life people who have not the smallest idea of serving their country or its people and a very big idea of how much fun political power can be. Dynastic democracy in an Indian context has proved to be no more than a very ugly extension of feudalism and because younger Indians seem to understand this Priyanka may not be the ‘brahmastra’ her supporters think she is.

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  • Hindu girl

    Such politics might work in Japan as it is a homogenous society….Nice article but Niti Central needs some better copy editors so as to avoid mistakes such as “reason why” …Lack of good editing ruins an otherwise good piece..

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003324251060 Sidramappa Nagathan

    Excellent article with very nice explanation and comparison between Gandhi stalwarts and NaMo,by Tavleen Singh, many many thanks to you. Narendra Modi is an extra ordinary brilliant and capable and most practical minded Good Leader of this generation, Indian people are finding hope in his abilities of TOTAL REVOLUTIONARY DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA JAI HIND.

  • Hindu girl

    The Japanese modernized according to their own terms, they adjusted modernization to suit their needs, they were one people with allegiance to one emperor. India did not modernize on its own terms but copied Western ideas without thinking how they might be applicable to India and is still on that route…

  • Bapty.s

    I AM A FAN OF TAVLEEN IN THE SENSE. APPRECIATE. HER ARTICLES HER KNOWLEDGE OF DELHI DURBAR AND POLITICS, HER BOOK DURBAR WHICH I HAVE IS PRETTY GOOD AND EASY TO READ AND ABSORB.

    BUT I MUST BE FRANK. THIS ARTICLE SEEMS DISCONNECTED. WITH THE HEADING , AND INCIDENTALLY. MR ABE PRESENT P.M OF JAPAN. SEEMS TO BE A GOOD FRIEND OF SHRI MODIJI. WHILE. FACTS IN JAPAN AS STATED BY TAVLEEN ARE FACTS. IN A COUNTRY OF INDIAS SIZE. AND POPULATION. AND STATE OF ECONOMY ,HUMBLY I STATE. WE CAN’T. QUOTE JAPANESE DYNASTIES TO INDIA.

    BUT I THINK TAVLEENS. TRIP. COULD BE USEFUL IN MANY WAYS. TO OUR FUTURE. GOVT. THANK YOU.

  • pr

    The congress party is so manipulative, it will go to any length to stick on to power. And BTW why is nobody tlking about the repeal of swiss bank’s secrecy law and the impact on Indian politics?

  • nonu

    Namastasai, Namastasai, Namastasai, NAMO NAMAH. Barsati Mendak kuchh der awaj kar gayab ho jate hain.

  • Surya

    One needs to look far far beyond the last 40 -400 years to determine if dynasty rule is good or not. In fact dynastic rule is better than the current democratic rule by leaps and bounds and universes. the key that you are looking for is that the current dynasty does not have any lineage (just look at the family tree), never had the upbringing, charisma or the morals or the right guru’s.. the crown prince is caught with more than lakh dollars in an international location. all they have the sense of loot and thats the big distinction. In the past there was the brahmins that would keep the kshtriyas true..

    replace the current gang with Mauryas, Guptas, cholas and all the others ..

    • Vijay

      Dynastic rule in India – was unfortunately very poor still. Yes of course, if you replaced the current dynasty with Ashoka or Chandragupta, Rajaraja Chola or Chandragupta II, of course we would see better governance. But if you look deeper into the histories of these dynasties most of them either 1. Died out within 200 years or 2. Lasted a long time (Cholas) but disintegrated. On the other hand Chinese dynasties lasted for 400, 600 years.

      What happened in all of these dynasties was that there was no substructure of accountable rule – Indian dynastic rule was 100 percent dynastic rule – favourites were picked as governors, who then picked their favourites. In the end this led to disintegration.

      The secret to the Chinese dynasties was their use of the civil service exam as a way to pick able and efficient governors and local rulers. There existed SOME hope for a poor farmer’s son to hold one of the highest positions in the country. In India caste and favouritism ruined that potential. Ashoka’s empire ended up falling apart within two generations (At that time favouritism played more of a role).

      So that is why dynastic rule in India never really worked. Just look at the gap between the end of the Maurya dynasty and the beginning of the Gupta – centuries of infighting! When Mahmud of Ghazni invaded India ten times, what were many of the big kingdoms doing in the North – fighting over the city of Kalinga!

      Democracy in present day India is an atrocious thing, and I by no means say that it is better than Ashoka’s enlightened rule or Rajaraja Chola’s naval power. However, it has one and only one virtue – that it allows SOME room to change power peacefully and a small gap for accountability – elections.

      Just imagine if the Gandhi dynasty were a real royal dynasty! – Centuries of one Gandhi after another ruling in Delhi, busying themselves with collecting more and more wealth. Narendra Modi would probably have to lead a massive armed peasant revolution along the likes of Mao to get rid of them. An almost impossible task in India divided along religion and caste.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001058426563 Rakesh Shetty

    No doubt, author has a good knowledge and she briefly throws light on Japanese dynasty rule. However, we cannot compare Japan with India. India is a multicultural, multi-religious country and there are so many aspects that differ from Japan.
    Author has forgotten the shameful acts of Priyanka’s husband Robert Vadra. One may have fluent Hindi, but the use of surname and charm and charisma is meaningless when their own dynasty has destroyed the true values of India and made country look like a slave of west in all aspects. How much has been looted by the same dynasty for the past 65 years. Does the media have guts to question Nehru family on any of their wrong doings? We should not get carried away by this dynasty anymore. They have used the same tricks again and again on Indians and won the election, looted, made slave and the cycle continues. Why we are silent about the fact that congress has to be dissolved as per MK Gandhi’s wish.
    Only thing that I like in the article is “Congress to trap him in the meaningless debate about secularism and communalism he has managed to change the agenda and make the next general election about governance and a new vision for India.”.

  • http://dharmic-aryan.blogspot.co.uk/ @Jayeshji

    Do not forget Bush Jr and Bush Sr, Mr Clinton and Mrs Clinton, Chelsea can stand as well, in the US. The Japanese are a proud nation with no occupation but one defeat, by the US with whom they went to war, at a time when India was hopelessly enslaved and looted by Empire. So it is easy to blame India and forget a history of continual occupation by Muslims then the British. India did not fight for Independence, but a broke Britain at the end of WW2 left in haste with US pressure. After 25 years of Satyagrah Gandhiji gained, not independence but unity. The Gandhi dynasty does not sit well with democracy and a secularism designed to keep the majority at bay. A majority non English speaking that needs to learn about the french Revolution to understand their “secular” constitution. All pre 1947 laws need removing including the Latin Roman legal system outdated British education values, along with a language rooted in its culture and start a fresh just like Israel. Israel revived its ancient dead language of Hebrew, and is surrounded by more than one “Pakistan”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000239845509 Om Sudrania

    Ms Tavleen is an acclaimed writer and I highly respect her. The article is good with its intent enshrined in the caption. However as she goes down, there is an apparent disconnect in the text to justfy the caption. She could have altered it’s caption to suit its text that could have given it a more effectivity. She just starts with her Japan trip taking it to Japanese dynasty quote but ultimately meanders from discussion on Indian dynasty relevance or irrelevance to Indian people at large.

    Another point that makes this comparison between Japan and India is that the history, culture, plurality, language disconnect etc are totally dissimilar in two nations. Lastly, the dynasty of Nehru-Gandhi is not a dynasty like Japanese or European dynasties, or even the past (preindependence) Indian kingly dynasties also. This pseudo-first family is a fake opportunist dynasty created by the most inapt adventurist Jawaharlal Nehru. It is time that there is more and real discussion about the role and life of this Nehru family. It is highly relevant. Had Nehru not been the Prime Minister, the scenario in India would have been completely different, as I believe. Hence it is time that media gather courage and temerity to discuss it. It may not be so easy with Congress and its so called dynasty family will certainly do its best to scuttle such a move at every cost. Will Indian media do it???

  • Kannan

    The hoarding could have said instead

    Bharat desh ko banaya bimaar
    Logon par chada diya corruption ka bhaar
    Fool-pur ka bano ummedwar
    Desh ko fool nahi kar sakte is baar

  • K R R Pillai

    So far my understanding about the concept of Dynastic Rule was that a family or line keeping the soveriegn power as a right inheritted from the ancestors similar to that of Zahiruddin Babar to Humayun to Akbar …..and to end with Bahdur Shaw Safar’ exile to Burma.Such despotism which has no resembleness to Parlimentary Democracy lasting from 1526 to 1857 is being equated to Indias fragal’e Democracy which survived smooth transition of power viz Nehru to Shastri,to Indira Gandhi,to Morarji, to Charan Singh,to Indira Gandhi.toRajiv to V.P.Sing,to Chandra Sekhar,toRao,to Vajpai,to Dewa Gouda to Gujaral,toVajpai and finally Man Mohan Sing.If the author wants to engage in Nehru family bashing to glorrify Mody, may do so but it should not be by doing violence to the language(meaning of dynasty).In 1977 when Indira was defeated Cartoonist Abu in his cartoon caricatured an Indian villager asking Jaya Prakash Narayan”Is our revolution as total as you wanted?”.And the same rustic villager brought back Indira when JP’s Janatha withered away. Indian Democracy though fragile yet is the only one existing one in Asia.It is the largest in the world.If you do not want to give credit to “Nehru Dynasty”you may do so.But please do not ridicule the Indian village folk when they put up a hoarding of his choice on the perverted logiclogic that he is back ward.

  • cvguy

    She is their only élan vi·tal preserved for election 2019, may prove effective, after all yin, but the sad part is that even she shall be confined in the congress sectarian mindset, the ruling clique Lutyen sycophancy and nepotism shall prevail with her having no understanding of the miracle i.e. Inidia.