Dy­nasty is a tena­cious glue that holds po­lit­i­cal par­ties to­gether, whether it is the Congress or re­gional be­he­moths. But it is not enough in a democ­racy.

India Today - - SIGNATURE - Mark Tully The writer is a best­selling au­thor and jour­nal­ist

Feu­dal­ism is a def­i­ni­tion of me­dieval Euro­pean so­ci­ety, and many his­to­ri­ans ques­tion whether it is even a use­ful con­cept for de­scrib­ing those times. Yet the word feu­dal is loosely bandied about to de­plore to­day’s dy­nas­tic democ­racy in In­dia. Com­ing a lit­tle nearer to our time, it’s also of­ten sug­gested that In­dia’s dy­nas­ties show that democ­racy here is stuck in the rut that con­strained British pol­i­tics some 300 years ago, the days of rot­ten bor­oughs, bor­oughs so small that each voter could be per­son­ally bribed. I would sug­gest that In­dia’s demo­cratic dy­nas­ties have risen be­cause they suit the cir­cum­stances pre­vail­ing to­day. They are mod­ern po­lit­i­cal hy­brids.

There is no doubt that dy­nas­ties abound in In­dia. The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple is the NehruGandh­i dy­nasty which dom­i­nates the Congress party. Indira Gandhi is usu­ally cred­ited with con­vert­ing Congress into a fam­ily busi­ness, but in his re­cently pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Kuldip Na­yar says Lal Ba­hadur Shas­tri be­lieved Nehru had dy­nas­tic am­bi­tions, want­ing his daugh­ter to suc­ceed him. In the re­gions, there are pow­er­ful dy­nas­tic pa­tri­archs, for in­stance, Mu­layam Singh in the north, M. Karunanidh­i in the south, and Naveen Pat­naik in the east. It has re­cently been es­ti­mated that a lit- tle over 28 per cent of the cur­rent MPs are dy­nasts.

Be­fore con­demn­ing In­dia’s dy­nas­tic pol­i­tics with pe­jo­ra­tive terms like feu­dal, and back­ward, it should be re­mem­bered that dy­nasts are a wide­spread phe­nom­e­non in Asia. Sin­ga­pore, whose eco­nomic progress is so widely praised, is ef­fec­tively run by the Lee fam­ily. The much ad­mired Burmese op­po­si­tion leader Aung San Suu Kyi is the daugh­ter of the in­de­pen­dence hero Aung San. In neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh, two for­mi­da­ble women dy­nasts bat­tle for power: Hasina Wa­jed, daugh­ter of Sheikh Mu­jib, the leader of the in­de­pen­dence move­ment, and Khaleda Zia, widow of the as­sas­si­nated mil­i­tary ruler Zi­aur Rah­man. One of the many ques­tions hang­ing over the fu­ture of Pak­istan is whether Be­nazir Bhutto’s son Bi­lawal will be able to safe­guard the dy­nasty founded by Zul­fiqar Ali Bhutto. Even in China, sons and daugh­ters of lead­ing party mem­bers have be­come known as ‘ red princes’ be­cause of the influence they wield. With the Roo­sevelts, the Kennedys, and of course, the Bush fam­ily, Amer­ica can’t af­ford to sneer at In­dian dy­nasts. Bri­tain just wit­nessed the most amaz­ing out­pour­ing of af­fec­tion on Queen El­iz­a­beth’s di­a­mond ju­bilee, and she is a dy­nast if ever there was one.

Mark R. Thomp­son, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer-

IN­DIAN POLITI­CIANS SEEM TO NEED a strong leader to keep them in or­der. Congress is suf­fer­ing be­cause Indira Gandhi laid down the rule that no politi­cian should be al­lowed to be­come a re­gional dy­nast.


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