And What is Your ‘Good Name’?

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Kr­ish­na­murthy Subra­ma­nian

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

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