And What is Your ‘Good Name’?
When Nitish Kumar mentioned that the Bihar mandate was to serve the people of Bihar and not to serve ‘a family’, the nepotism debate was rekindled. Coming weeks after the ‘Nepotism rocks!’ skit by Karan Johar, Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan triggered a storm on social media.
Why is it that in some professions, merit and merit alone can provide you lasting success, while in others, belonging to the ‘right family’ can provide you a viable career, if not spectacular success? After all, the Kapoors, the Bachchans and the Oberois have been able to erect a career for their next generations. Similarly, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Gandhis and the Yadavs have been able to provide a viable political career to their next generation.
In contrast, the Amarnaths, the Gavaskars and the Manjrekars have had to earn a cricketing career based purely on merit. Sunil Gavaskar’s son, Rohan Gavaskar, never played Test cricket and was jettisoned after his modest performances in a few one-day internationals. The Gavaskar surname was not enough to earn him a career as an international cricketer. The Johars and the Gandhis would argue that the film-making and political nous required for their particular professions run ‘in their genes’ and that the ‘dynastic connection’ has nothing to do with their success. To test this hypothesis, however, we must examine the success of dynasts versus non-dynasts in environments where the family connection delivers them no favours. How many Johars, Kapoors or Bachchans have had the courage to try out their ware in Hollywood? None. In contrast, non-dynasts such as Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan have been successful there. Similarly, how many dynastic politicians have been successful outside the burrows created by their parents? No Gandhi has stood for an election, let alone win, outside Amethi and Rae Bareli. Similarly, no Yadav scion has attempted to exert influence outside the lairs created by their respective fathers in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.
Dynastic association, and the resultant nepotism, matters a lot in a profession where the outcomes are decided by a large mass of people. Movies and elections fit this bill. By definition, the expertise required for judging the ability of a person does not reside with the masses. So, a name or a family association can create a perception of ability to the masses, who cannot judge this effectively.
In contrast, a Gavaskar facing a Malcolm Marshall at Sabina Park can draw no comfort from his surname. It is only his ability to face fast bowling that can come to his rescue. It doesn’t matter what other people think of his abilities.
Dynasties and nepotism find a breeding ground in an industry where deep pockets are crucial. When deep pockets combine with paternal instincts, failure can be condoned and bankrolled. Imagine if Shah Rukh Khan’s first few films had bombed at the box office. In contrast, even when several of Saif Ali Khan’s initial mo- vies hardly created a ripple, he kept getting chances till the janta developed chahat for him in Dil Chahta Hai. And in a profession that deals with the masses, all one needs is one success, even if it follows several failures.
So, money power and connections help perpetuate mediocre dynasts and robs the economy of the benefits provide by real talent. Since a thriving democracy must aspire to provide every citizen equal opportunity irrespective of his or her lineage, the influence of dynasts must reduce as India heads towards becoming a true meritocracy.
The writer is Associate Professor, Finance, Indian School of Business
Winner of the spot-the-Kapoor contest