Why Does Indian Politics Foster a Thriving Culture of Dynasticism?
21 Percent of All MPs in the Lok Sabha Belong to Some Political Dynasty.
21 Percent of All MPs in the Lok Sabha Belong to Some Political Dynasty.(Photo: The Quint/Rahul Gupta)

Why Does Indian Politics Foster a Thriving Culture of Dynasticism?

The introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) was supposed to be a watershed moment, transforming the way indirect taxes were being levied and collected so far.

But what we got instead is multiple slabs, many cesses, constant classification-reclassification of goods and services and several deferred deadlines. Therefore, the impression that has unmasked itself is: Jugaad is possible even with one of the most pathbreaking indirect tax reform measures.

What it means is that the executive’s discretion to tinker with the provisions of one of most widely discussed policy decisions stays.

An elected government is expected to be responsive to the changing situation. But too many revisions after the introduction of a new policy sends out the wrong signal. It reinforces the view that policies are there to be suitably adjusted to your requirements. And the ability to get things done is dependent on the power of lobbyists.

Maximum Government, Maximum Dynasts

The point I am trying to make is that despite best intentions, the trajectory of policy making in the country has left enough room for discretion.

And GST, like many such seminal decisions before, has only expanded the power of the executive. More power to the executive means more premium on politics as a vocation, as politicians control the executive arm of the government. If that is the case, why would politicians allow their kins to opt for any other profession?

No wonder, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is not way off the mark when he says that dynasty politics in the country is a norm and not an exception.

Also Read: QRant: Rahul Gandhi to Anil Kr Sadhu, Down With Dynasty Politics

As stated in EPW issue on 12 July 2014, a research by Kanchan Chandra of the New York University shows that:

Dynasticism in India even in 2014 exists at significantly higher levels than in several other established democracies, putting it in the company of countries such as Japan, Iceland and Ireland, in which between a third and a fourth of elected legislators in 2009 were dynastic. This distinguishes it from countries such as the UK, Belgium, Israel, the US, Norway and Canada, in which the proportion of dynastic legislators ranged between 1% and 11%, respectively.

Also Read: ‘Dynasty Politics. That’s How India Works’: Rahul at Berkeley

21 Percent of All MPs in the Lok Sabha Belong to Some Political Dynasty

Kanchan Chandra’s study shows that one in five members of the current Lok Sabha belongs to a political dynasty.

“Whereas in 2009, 29% of Indian Members of Parliament (MPs) had a dynastic background, that has dropped to 21% in the 2014 Parliament,” the social scientist writes.

“Of the 36 political parties that now have at least one seat in Parliament, the leaders of at least 13 (36%) were preceded by family members in politics. The leaders of another 10 parties have family members who followed them into politics (and often the leadership of the party), bringing the number of family-based political parties to a whopping total of 23, or 64% of all political parties in Parliament. This includes old parties such as the Congress and the Akali Dal as well as relatively recent ones such as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS),” the professor adds.

Also Read: BJP’s Uttarakhand List Reeks of ‘Dynastic Politics’: Harish Rawat

Opponents of Dynasty Politics Are Keen to Perpetuate the Idea

The hold of dynasts is not confined to the Lok Sabha alone. They are quite powerful in state assemblies too. Kanchan Chandra also draws attention to the fact that even among parties with fewer dynasts in their ranks, the propensity to have family members succeed them is quite high.

We have many examples of otherwise vocal opponents of dynasty politics keenly pushing the case for their relatives, picking up batons in their areas of influence.

Why is dynasticism so entrenched in our democratic polity?

Very low entry barrier in politics is a factor, and so is the very favourable risk-reward ratio, given the kind of premium valuation politics commands in our country.

Also Read: BJP Overtakes Congress as Largest Political Party in Rajya Sabha

Chandra argues that “except for the unusually well qualified, most 20 or 30-year olds from political families are likely to obtain greater returns, in status, power, and earning capacity, from entry-level positions in elected politics than perhaps entry-level positions in business, banking, or the bureaucracy or other such professions.”

So, instead of calling out anyone as dynast and adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, let us introspect and seek to root out conditions that perpetuate dynasticism. That will mean the political class voluntarily offering to give up some of their power and status. Fair ask?

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