Dynasty and Idea of India

Topics: Indian National Congress, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi Pages: 5 (1906 words) Published: March 12, 2013
“Dynasty, a political tool in the hands of the ruling class, has become the catalyst for a new colonization of a country whose soul has already been deeply scarred by centuries of it”. This is perhaps the pithiest observation in “Durbar”, the newly published autobiographical account of well known journalist Tavleen Singh. The purpose of this piece is not to review Tavleen’s well written book but more an attempt to understand how a dynasty in a democratic polity evolves over multiple generations and how such democracies become different from normative democracies. The first generation dynast, who establishes the dynasty, in a nominally democratic polity, always has some leadership qualities in him or her. This is as much true of historical dynasties as it is true of our current ruling dynasty – the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Pandit Nehru, who established the Indian ruling dynasty, was not a man without merit. While history now judges most of the policies he implemented as Prime Minister in an unfair light, it would be a huge disservice to argue that he rose without any merit. In this, arguably, he was not different from how true democracies choose their leader – democracies are designed to ensure that the best and the brightest political talent in each generation rise to the top. In the greatest democracy on Earth, while Dwight Eisenhower became President of USA in 1952, Barrack Obama won a second term, 60 years later, in 2012. Eisenhower will perhaps go down in history as the greatest General ever. But that did not imply that his successive generations will continue to be regarded as the greatest too and claim the office of US President as their right. Each generation will have to compete with fellow citizens in an equal game and the best man or woman would win. Naturally then, Eisenhower’s children and grandchildren lived successful private lives while men and women from diverse families and backgrounds, but all of some competence, staked their claims in each generation for the top executive position in the US. That is how the chain led to Obama winning again in 2012. Coincidentally, India too elected Pandit Nehru as its Prime Minster in its first general elections in 1952. But what about 2012? Congress party, to which he belonged, thinks his great-grandson is the best and the brightest in this current generation too, like members of his family in each intervening generation. How did this happen? How did we so diametrically diverge from the US path? Pandit Nehru passed on the mantle to Indira Gandhi. But only just. She was not the choice, decided on impulse within seconds of Pandit Nehru’s death in 1964. In fact she only became Prime Minister in 1966 after untimely demise of Shashtri who was the Prime Minister in the intervening period. But even when she did, there were murmurs of dynastic succession. However, that Indira Gandhi was already 30 when India gained independence in 1947, and that her entire formative years were in the cauldron of freedom movement and in tutelage of stalwarts, perhaps helped her gain some initial legitimacy. But Indira Gandhi knew the same would not be true for her succeeding generations. So she set about the task of putting the tools in place to ensure that her dynasty continued. What were these tools? Unlike real democracies, which place premium on merit, dynasties throttle merit. There is a glass ceiling above which no one can rise. This glass ceiling has multiple effects. First, meritorious people are ambitious. They have ideas – ideas which have changed human history time and again. But if there is a glass ceiling for meritorious people, beyond which they can never rise, why would they want to continue to serve or live in that system? They can clearly see that they are better than the top boss, but they themselves can never become the boss. This is when flight of talent begins to places and countries where merit is still at a premium – this is the beginning of brain drain. The brain which does...
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