In the 21st Century, Indian politics is still dominated by dynasties, raising concerns about the health of its democracy.
India is a country where familial ties run strong. This often makes individuals secure and society stable. The old adage that blood is thicker than water is more true in India than elsewhere.
Given India’s social structure, it is perhaps inevitable that dynasties have emerged in various professions. Nepotism helps members of powerful families ascend to positions that would otherwise have been beyond their reach. In Bollywood, in big business and, especially, in politics, certain dynasties have come to the fore.
However, it is important to remember that during its struggle for independence, India promised to be different. Sarojini Naidu, a poetess and freedom fighter, became the first woman to become the chairperson of the Indian National Congress on her own merit. India’s constitution was drafted by Bhimrao Ambedkar, a social reformer and scholar, was an untouchable who rose to dizzying heights because of his extraordinary achievements. Mahatma Gandhi, the most famous Indian of the last few centuries, was also a self-made man who was neither from the Brahmin priestly caste nor from the Rajput aristocratic caste.
After independence, India no longer places the same premium on merit. The Nehru dynasty has been in power since 1947, except for brief breaks. Currently, the Italian widow of Nehru’s grandson, Sonia Gandhi, continues to wield power even though she does not occupy any office of the Indian state. Other regional dynasties have also emerged such as the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh, the Thackerays in Maharashtra and the Karunanidhi clan in Tamil Nadu.
Why Does Dynastic Rule Matter?
The significance of dynasties for India is enormous. First, they raise the issue of competence. If people hold office on account of their birth instead of achievements, this usually leads to bad governance. Second, this brings into question the idea of fairness. Rewarding people for their lineage and not effort is unfair. Third, this in turn leads to corruption. Nepotism leads to power structures based on patronage. It creates a class divided society where power flows from the top. Fourth, in such a system, the powerful always oppose reforms. They preserve their interests by perpetuating the status quo, making change difficult if not impossible. Finally, dynasties weaken democracies. Over time, the average citizen has a lesser say in the running of the state. A few families monopolize power and manipulate the system to their advantage. This results in lower political participation and, eventually, disenchantment with democracy itself.
As India strives to be a world power and flaunt its claim as the world’s largest democracy, it has to curtail the disproportionate power that dynasties wield in its politics.
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