India’s dynasty politics needs to go
The number of sons, daughters, wives and other relatives that politicians come attached with reminds me of Bollywood. Talent takes a back seat, and nepotism rules. Whether it is the Gandhis, or the Scindias or the Karunanidhis, India is fast becoming a shining example of dynastic politics. But then political dynasties are perpetuated because voters vote them in, and then the party members elevate them to great heights.
Here are some reasons (might overlap) why voters vote for dynastic rulers:
- There are voters who cannot/will not distinguish between the family name and the party. The family “brand” becomes synonymous with the party. Something similar to Coke being associated with colas or xerox being associated with copying. Or the Gandhis with the Congress.
- Voters have a feudalistic mindset and feel comfortable with being “ruled” by families. In fact they start associating a powerful political family with royalty. Respect and awe mean the same thing. The family name is what inspires the awe, not individual merit.
- Some voters actually believe that the individuals in the family are somehow better than the others standing for election.
- There are voters so loyal to the party (ideology) that they don’t care which individual they are voting for.
- Then there are those who vote for one of the two major parties without really caring for either the party or the individual. They want to do their bit to ensure that there isn’t a hung parliament!
- Some voters go by “symbol”. Individuals don’t matter.
- Some voters feel it is a practical choice to vote for someone from a political family as he/she has the right connections and the resources to get things done.
- There are voters who vote according to caste/religion and then the relative of the previous MP is a great substitute.
Individual merit isn’t the important factor. Sure, people might vote for an individual because of the charisma, family name, clean image or whatever, but that’s not merit. Merit needs to be some work that the individual has done, his educational background, past achievements, political experience and so on.
I am not blaming the public. Detailed and objective analysis of candidate merit is not available in the media. Often the media demands money if the aspiring candidate wants press coverage. You can be sure that if he/she does get that press coverage he covets, only good things are said. Rosy pictures are painted.
Here are some of the things that I feel are necessary to help voters pick the right candidate. Some of the things seem impossible, but well, a start can be made:
- Greater transparency from the government’s end. All information about government functioning needs to become freely available to the media, including information on the status of various schemes, their funding and their execution, the people in-charge and so on. All this will make it easier for the voter to make the right decision about a candidate. As of now many citizens have to take recourse to the RTI Act and this takes time.
- A vigilant press which makes a fuss about the wrongdoings of those in power. A press which does not eulogise politicians or aspiring politicians, and/or deliberately conceal the seamy side of their characters. All facts need to be placed before the public, particularly those of family members who have got the ticket to contest because of their connections. And before an election, all candidates need to be able to find a voice through the media, not just those who pay or employ public relations agencies or those who intimidate the press or those whom the press is in awe of because of their family name.
- More awareness campaigns on the importance of voting. Sure, there have been many such this year but most of them were meant to shame the voter into voting. We also need campaigns to make voters understand why their vote is so important. This needs to be taught in school.
Family members are surrounded by sycophants and to hell with democratic values
Once elected (and at times even before that), the dynastic ruler ensures that family members and loyalists hog the plum posts in the government. Inexperienced family members get to decide who will become a minister.
We all know that after the 2004 Lok Sabha election, Sonia Gandhi would have been made the Prime Minister if it had been constitutionally possible or if she had insisted on it. The sycophants of her party wanted her, no matter what her experience and educational background. She did become the party president, the kingmaker. A person without any political background or achievements.
Why should party members help perpetuate the dynasty?
The reason has to lie in self-interest, and not the country’s interest. Here are some reasons I have penned down:
- Dynastic rulers often control a lot of the party money which is often stashed away in secret accounts
- Besides resources, political families have the right connections, in politics, in business, in the judiciary and even the underworld
- The MP’s who help bring in political dynasties are often themselves intellectually bankrupt and owe their positions to the “family”. They know that without the family they are nothing. They will do anything to keep the family in, either for their own survival or out of sheer gratitude.
- Family members of politicians often manage to get a mass following amongst voters (reasons given above) and the chances of their winning is high and that is why they can be given tickets to contest. This is because the family is considered the brand or mascot of the party. And there is always less work that needs to be done to sell a well known brand instead of trying to launch a new brand. Launching a well known brand is also playing safe. This is why even senior members of the party go along with the family members, thinking that it will help their party win more seats
- There is so much infighting and jealousy in the party that they prefer someone who is “above” them. They do not under any circumstances want to see one of their own succeed.
- They are in awe of the “family” and see them as royalty.
Here are some things that can be done to prevent dynasties, again seems impossible in the present scenario:
- Internal elections (within the party) need to be held. No one should be “nominated.”
- All secret benami accounts need to be closed and all the money transferred to a common fund.
- All party funding needs to become transparent and open.
- Minimum qualifications and other criteria of merit should be adhered to for appointment of ministers
- The dynastic ruler should insist that his relative start at the bottom rung. The country or state is not his private limited company.
- Political parties need to make a concerted effort to develop a second and third rung of leaders and push them into the limelight, ensure they get exposure to the public. Long term planning is required for this. Anyone who tries to suppress talent has to be sidelined.
What’s wrong with a dynasty if the person has “merit?
This is an argument that some people put forward. That the heirs of political bigwigs have merit but what happens to those others out there, maybe with more merit, who have not got the opportunity at all?
People also say that lawyer kids become lawyers, doctor kids become doctors and army kids join the army so why don’t we accept political kids? For one thing, because those other guys and gals do some sort of course and pass an exam even if they pay money or use their influence to get into the course. In politics a family member of a politician gets a free pass! From criminality to licentiousness to stupidity, all is pardoned… as long as they have the family name.
If the family member earns the ticket because of previous party work it is another matter. This rarely happens and worse, once elected these family members become all-important in the party.
Some claim that there is no reason to make a big fuss about dynasties because “even America has political dynasties” (Clinton, Bush) and that “England has also had a tradition of dynasties” ( Harold Macmillan’s cabinet in the 1950s had 11 members who were related to each other). But this rings hollow. We all know that there is no culture of “nomination” in their political system. Nor is there a culture of sycophancy. Their democracy seems to work. For example Hillary Clinton lost to Obama in a fair race. In any case Clinton was a heavyweight lawyer before she joined politics, she wasn’t a nobody. And there is no dynasty now, after George Bush. It’s ended, if there ever was a dynasty. And although George W. Bush was born into a political family he earned his way up. I really do not think that there is any comparison between “dynasties” in the US and the UK and here. Perhaps we may compare ourselves with Pakistan which has relatives of politicians in all sorts of important positions.
I guess you and me know that politicians’ children and relatives in India don’t need to prove themselves.
(Note:The link to the wall street journal article was courtesy Prerna)
Related Reading: Whom to vote for? The political party or the individual?
Reasons for the outcome of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections
Our elected representatives don’t really represent us
Sheila Dixit’s win in Delhi – a new voting era in India?
The middle-classes don’t vote…slum dwellers do!
Don’t want to vote? Then register your no-vote!
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