India: The Political Dynasties

Is democracy alive? That's one persistent question in the sub-continent's political gamble on hereditary. We had our kings, our queens and we stilling can't stop rooting for our neo-political emperors, and their families. A leader was slain in Pakistan, on December 27, 2007 and hours after her departure from her political and physical life, her son was chosen to be her heir. Sirensongs, from ‘Feringhee: The India Diaries‘ questions.

“When is a democracy not a democracy? When its leaders are appointed by non-democratic methods, for one thing. When heredity is 9/10 of the law; and yes, the same formula applies to the Gandhi-Nehrus and Thackerays of India, and many others.”

Sirensongs quotes from the Indian Express,Royalism has been democratised in South Asia. In turning our backs on monarchy, we reinvent ourselves as republicans. But this is often a fragile and tenuous republicanism, as the political parties in our democratic polities are mini-kingdoms each with its own royal family.” adding to this her personal observations.

At India View, S. Venikar is apathetic to the political situation in South Asia, yet sympathizes for the crown prince ‘Bilawal’ and his inheritance.

“If political leaders of the country start bequeathing their personal estates through their last will, there would be no questions asked, although any last will could be legally challenged by legitimate interests. If Kings and Queens in the 21st Century appoint their heirs to the throne that may be quite understandable.

There is really no custom or convention in the constitutional law or in the political parties for such a phenomenon. Nepotism during the lifetime of the political leaders is reluctantly accepted by their followers. Bilawal Bhutto, Rahul Gandhi and Pankaj Singh each may be viewed as the heir apparent for their respective party leadership positions in remote future.

Bilawal lofty statements regarding his faith in democracy and avenging his mother's assassination through democracy are normal expressions of a grieving and mourning teenager but alas he does not see how democracy is high jacked in his political party.”

In a previous article, De'mo-narchy Of India”, Venikar talks of how the real threat to Indian democracy is from the new breed of politicians who are taking advantage of the institution of democracy to create dynasties.

Patrick Pringle is frightened by the similarity between the predicament of Bhutto's son, Bilawal, and that of Gandhi's. He comments on this prolonging issue all the way from London on his blog Patrick's South Asia Diary.


  • Congress Party is increasingly pinning its hopes on young Priyanka Gandhi. This 29-year-old half-Italian woman is a direct descendent of three Indian Prime Ministers. She appears the best hope of extending the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that began with when her great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru became independent India’s first prime minister in 1947.

  • Dharam

    One must understand that taking the history of mankind of so many million years, collective governance as seen in todays democratic societies is relatively a new invention. Remember as living creatures we are very slow in adaptation. I think democracy is still being evolved. This being so because citizens are slowly adapting themselves to the nuances of election, selection or collective appointment of their representatives. I think people, for the time being, are seing ‘dynasties’ as an easy, easier to grasp way of appointing their governers. But I think in a couple of decades to come, that will disappear as people loose their insecurity of public, unknow entity selection to govern themselves. I think future will see only democracy, but the form could be diffrent. I pray it is world governance. We will no longer have wars.

  • Political dynasties are as much a product of the age of television and mass media as of a tradition peculiarly Indian.

    The comparison with Royalism is understandable, but Royalism itself is not a problem. One of the oldest democracies – Britain – continue to be unapologetically royalist and yet democratic.

    However, dynasties arise because of media’s obsession about dynasties! Why do we know so much about Chelsea Clinton? Or Jenna Bush? Are we not seeing a dynasty in America? Surely, Hilary Clinton is gifted and smart, but how about a Hilary Diane Rodham versus John McCain poll? Familiarity is an asset in modern democracy, and dynasties lead to familiarity.

    Or, let’s talk Pakistan. Bilawal Zardari changed his name to stake it out. Or, in every other society – Ghana and Kofi Annan sprang to my mind – where a familiar family name is dropped to achieve various political, financial and social goals.

    I also wonder why dynasties in politics are such a bad thing when it is accepted practise in large corporations. One business leader told me that he believes his sons practised the art of public behaviour from the day they were born, and they are therefore well qualified to manage the affairs of his large, multi-billion dollar enterprise. Very true, but why does that not apply to politicians too?

    However, I agree, when such dynastic succession tends to cripple the normal functioning of a meritocracy, the country gets less than what it deserves. New ideas and leaders with potential face an unfair obstacle – and progress becomes difficult. However, dynasties are not the only issue, the overall social mobility and VIP syndrome are bigger enemies of meritocracy. Let’s say – by law – one bars Rahul Gandhi from entering politics. Would that stop our friendly neighbourhood civil servant act like he owns the estate? Or would it stop some junior opposition leader from delaying flights because he can’t make it to the airport on time? Our democracy – as I keep saying – needs to shake off its ‘babu-fat’. Dynasties will go on its own.

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