But the truth of the matter is that all political dynasties in India flourished when the master dynasty, the Nehru-Gandhi one did, and are falling now that the same is in decline. It’s something along the lines of: One ring to rule them all! (Lord of the Rings)
Let me explain.
Mahatma Gandhi installed Jawaharlal Nehru, the son of Congress President (in 1919) Motilal, as Prime Minister in 1947. (There was no way he would have got that job on his own. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was chased away and Sardar Vallabhai Patel got sidelined to make way for him by Gandhi)
After that Nehru went on to cultivate his dynasty and encourage all Indians to do the same. His sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit received many plum government posts throughout her life while cousin Braj Kumar Nehru was made ambassador to the United States in 1961. Nehru also gave Braj Kumar’s mother Rameshwari Raina a Padma Bhushan in 1955.
Another cousin Ratan Kumar Nehru was given a host of prestigious ambassadorships including an important one to China. Nehru taught India nepotism was OK and it was right to reward your siblings, cousins and children with plum posts if you happened to be in power.
Of course the biggest single act that changed Indian dynastic politics forever was Nehru cultivating his daughter Indira Gandhi for Prime Ministership. Indira was Nehru’s unofficial Chief of Staff and his political gatekeeper.
She was (albeit behind the scenes) a powerful political player strongly cultivated by Nehru. Nehru made her a Congress Working Committee Member in 1955 and party President in 1959. She strongly influenced national policy as seen by her role in the re-organization of the states and dismissal of the Kerala government.
In fact when Nehru died and Lal Bahadur Shastri was made Prime Minister, a lot of Congress leaders were surprised that he didn’t pass it on to Indira. Indira carried forward the dynasty first pushing her son Sanjay and then Rajiv.
In fact so entrenched was dynastic politics by 1991 that when a zero experience disaster orator Sonia Gandhi offered the Prime Ministership, no-one batted an eyelid. She was inarticulate in both English and Hindi and had refused to give up her Italian citizenship till the political pressure got too much.
All the media, liberals and intellectuals took it as a given in 2009 that Rahul “Pappu” Gandhi would lead the Congress to 272 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general elections. Even after the 2014 debacle Congress leaders were desperately looking to Priyanka Vadra.
How the Congress pushed the dynasty can be seen from the members of various UPA Cabinets who not only had to be dynasty loyalists but the following were outright dynasty members themselves…
Meira Kumar, Salman Khurshid, Ajit Singh, Dayanidhi Maran, Jayanthi Natarajan, Praful Patel, Jyotiraditya Madhavrao Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Murli Deora, MK Alagiri, Jitin Prasada, Preneet Kaur, Agatha Sangma, MM Pallam Raju, Anbumani Ramadoss, GK Vasan, Tushar Amarsinh Chaudhary, Pratik Prakashbapu Patil, Charan Das Mahant, Ranee Narah and Deepa Dasmunsi.
And naturally other political dynasties flourished around them. In Jammu & Kashmir the Abdullahs produced four Chief Ministers. The PDP in that State also had the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti.
Tamil Nadu has a huge flourishing dynasty in the Karunanidhi family. In the ADMK also the general secretary’s post passed seamlessly from MG Ramachandran to Jayalalithaa and now her companion Sasikala.
Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family has already produced two chief ministers and a deputy CM. In Karnataka there’s HD Deve Gowda and HD Kumaraswamy. The Badals are entrenched in Punjab while Haryana had Devil Lala and Om Prakash Chautala.
Andhra Pradesh has N Chandrababu Naidu and Jagan Mohan Reddy. Other dynastic CMs in India include Naveen Patnaik (Orissa) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan). Look all over India and you will find this the story everywhere.
If a PM can push his child to the PM’s post, then a CM can push his child to the CM’s post. The same applies to MPs, MLAs and any other sundry political post you can think of.
However the political climate at the top has changed. The Congress has always held either the Prime Minister’s post or the ruling government’s strings or the Leader of the Opposition’s post. This is the first time ever that they have absolutely nothing zilch.
This is the first time in her life that Sonia finds herself not connected to either the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition’s post in any way. The BJP is in the real ascendant right now. It leads the Congress 280-45 in the Lok Sabha, is inching ahead in the Rajya Sabha and will soon have its own President and Vice President.
Not only does the BJP have many more MLAs than the Congress, but if you look at the ten largest states by area, then the Congress has just one while the BJP and its allies have seven, including the top three.
They say, “Jaisa Raja, waisi Praja” (the people will be like the king) and the BJP is the only major political party which has desisted a dynasty at the top. (Syama Prasad Mukherjee→Deen Dayal Upadhyaya→Atal Bihari Vajpayee→LK Advani→Narendra Modi)
2014 was a disaster year for the dynasty and the climate continues to go against them. Sonia couldn’t become Prime Minister, but Rahul may never ever be in a position to stake claim to be PM in the future. The Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh drew a blank at the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and are currently fighting their way out of power.
The JD(S) may never come to power in Karnataka while in Tamil Nadu the post-Karunanidhi scene looks bleak with too many claimants for the throne. Sasikala will also not have it that easy. Many political dynasts have already been fragmented and may see a further decline.
There are still many ruling dynasts but they will struggle to pass on to their legacies to their progenies. There is a good chance that Modi will remain Prime Minister till 2024 and change the mind set of Indians completely.
Another reason is the decline of the ruling establishment of mainstream media, liberals and intellectuals. They were the biggest reason for the pushing of dynasties as they were well-entrenched in their reward system.
In the 2010s, the people via social media are calling the shots and they are not at all enamoured by any dynasty. The biggest example is the recent American elections. Jeb Bush was a favourite with the Republican leaders while Hillary Clinton was a favourite with the entire ruling establishment.
From 1980-2012 (a whopping 32 years) a Bush or a Clinton was either a President or a Vice President or a Secretary of State. And the ruling establishment was predicting 8 years of Hillary but they fell flat on their face.
Donald Trump ended both the Bush and Clinton dynasties in one stroke.
In 2016 you have to earn your political post and you can’t demand it as your right. Sure the political dynasty cannot be totally eradicated but the way the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty grew like a banyan tree (in the words of Mark Tully) and allowed many other mini banyan trees at the fringes, well those days are over.
In the future you will have fewer and fewer political dynasties and what little are there will have to fight for it and earn it.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
That was the case when the dynasty pushed Indian politics into darkness.
But in 2014 the dynastic ring was destroyed the way it was in LOTR in Oroduin, the volcano in Mordor and a new era was unleashed in Indian politics. We are seeing the decline of the dynasty to this present day and that will continue well into the future.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here