The Decline of Political Feudalism
– By Praful Shankar
BJP’s Chief Ministerial selections in Haryana and Maharashtra represent a major trend that the political chattering class has conveniently overlooked – the precedence given to credible organizational performance and dedication over dynastic entitlement
Ever since Narendra Modi rode into 7 Race Course Road on the back of the strongest mandate any government in New Delhi has had for the past three decades, it has become fashionable to analyze almost every electoral contest in India as part of a larger national picture. While most see the repeated success of Narendra Modi and the BJP as the sign of a yearning across the country for an aspirational model of politics and governance, the disproportionately influential and left-leaning New Delhi elite have spent the last few months going to town over what they perceive to be rise of dictatorial politics and ‘communal’ political agendas.
Yet even those who perpetually criticize the BJP would not have failed to notice the relative smoothness with which the selection of leadership in all three states was executed. In each of these cases, the BJP stayed true to its roots and selected credible, grassroots leaders with a long history of commitment to the party. In fact, the ascent of Devendra Fadnavis, Manohar Lal Khattar and Laxmikant Parsekar, in Maharashtra, Haryana and Goa respectively, represent a major trend that the political chattering class conveniently overlooked – the precedence given to credible organizational performance and dedication over dynastic entitlement.
The past decade has seen a drastic increase in the promulgation of dynastic politics across the country – both in states and at the center. The fact that this time period coincided with the relative dominance of the Congress in the political space is no coincidence.
The Congress has been the standard bearer when it comes to dynastic rule in India. It has the mother of all political dynasties, the Nehru-Gandhis in New Delhi, along with a host of smaller and subservient dynasties spread across all major states. Almost all major leaders the Congress had as part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Cabinet and in its various state governments were dynasts. The outgoing Chief Ministers of Haryana and Maharashtra themselves were the sons of prominent Congress leaders. Most of the so-called ‘Young Turks’ of the UPA like Jyothiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, RPN Singh, Deepender Singh Hooda, Milind Deora and of course, Rahul Gandhi had come to the political forefront only due to their last names.
This is not to say that the Congress is the only guilty party in this regard. The Congress model had been successfully appropriated across the political spectrum with the Samajwadi Party, DMK, Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Akali Dal, Shiv Sena, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and National Conference among others have all increasingly become family holdings, with leaders outside of the families only expected to work but never lead. The Communists can claim some respite from this criticism but the fact remains that the Indian Left is a spent political force today with more support in TV Studios than amongst common Indians.
One of the most frequently cited criticisms of dynastic politics in India has been its tendency to breed corruption. It is a fact that the reason why most political leaders want their sons and daughters to inherit their political legacy is to keep the family coffers full. In fact, a wholly new trend had begun to emerge in political families in the recent past when there was more than one aspirant for the family legacy. This was to split the workload and maintain a delicate balance between the claimants. Often, one sibling would be sent to the Center while the other would be given the reins of the State. In some other cases, one would be asked to enter politics while the other would be asked to take care of the ‘family business’. And we have seen in the case of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi,and DLF, the property developer, these ‘family businesses’ can turn out to be astonishingly lucrative.
As revolting as these instances of corruption are, dynastic politics also leads to a malaise of a different kind – an absolute disconnect of the leader from the electorate.
Born with silver spoons in their mouths, second generation politicians across India come to lead hallowed lives. They grow up in luxurious Lutyens bungalows, drive expensive cars and get admissions into the best private schools and foreign universities (quite often without merit). The result has been the emergence of a new breed of young politicians, steeped in elitism, who would struggle to survive in a competitive environment without their famous surnames and are absolutely disconnected from the ordinary Indian. This disconnect can be seen to have adverse effects when it comes to policy formulation and matters of day-to-day governance.
By virtue of having very little idea of their electorate’s constantly evolving needs, dynasts, more often than not, end up rehashing the old schemes of their ancestors and presenting them as their own. Born and tutored into the old feudal and socialist mindset, they tend to think of themselves are Lords (and Ladies) Bountiful who will throw crumbs down from their high table into the arms of their adoring subjects. If confronted by strong opponents, they tend to evoke public compassion by invoking the ‘sacrifices’ of their ancestors. Not having been seriously challenged in terms of ideas and thoughts throughout their lives and incapable of investing the diligence required in overseeing the nitty-gritty of governance issues, they end up relying on tried and tested social engineering strategies to keep their electoral fortunes going.
This is the reason that almost every member of this dynastic tribe have been shown up as abysmal failures as MPs, MLAs and Ministers.
The media may concentrate their attacks on Rahul Gandhi – and rightly so – but it not as if other members of the youth brigade have set the skies alight either. The Pilots, Scindias, Hoodas and Singhs cannot honestly claim even a single success to their names during their respective periods in Government. Even in the states, we have the glaring examples of Omar Abdullah and Akhilesh Singh Yadav – dynasts who are quite possibly the worst two Chief Ministers their respective states have had in a long time. For states like Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh, that is saying a lot.
It is in this context that the results of the 2014 general elections and the state elections which followed, present a great degree of hope for India. Signs are that the Indian electorate – especially the young voter – has broken free of the feudalistic mindset that used to dominate electoral choices not so long ago. These new generations of Indians do not plan to bow their heads before the Kunwars and Sahebs of yesteryears. It is this impulse that Narendra Modi understood and channelized during his election campaign. As the son of a common man, he knew that his story would resonate far more with the electorate than that of dynasts asking for votes in the name of the fathers and grandfathers.
To stretch the point even further, it would not be amiss to say that Modi and the BJP under him have begun to represent the very antithesis of the dynastic politics that the Congress has come to embody. The Prime Minister has kept dynastic entitlement to a minimum in his Cabinet. Almost none of the current lineup of the BJP’s Central and Chief Ministers are dynasts. And even in the case of the small number of leaders with a dynastic legacy, like Vasundhara Raje for example, their ascendance has been built on their performance and political credibility.
By insisting on bringing in proven performers from the party system into leadership positions in the state and central governments, the BJP has signaled its intent to effect a drastic change in how India is to be led politically. For the general Indian electorate, this is a heartening sign. It signifies the dismantling of a sort of political feudalism which had begun to grip Indian politics. It also denotes the beginning of the representation of grassroots desires and aspirations in national policy formulation and governance.
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Source: WHN Media Network