It’s all in the family: India’s love for dynasties
Rahul Gandhi is now vice president of the Congress party. Anyone who has been following Indian politics will know that this was inevitable. Despite royal titles having been abolished, Indians can’t seem to give up on the idea of dynastic rule.
Whether it’s politics, business, or even Bollywood, Indians seem to have trust issues with anyone who is not their offspring, preferring to hand over the reins to their sons and daughters, irrespective of whether they might be deserving or not. The desire to make it merely on the basis of family name is reflected in a commonly heard boast at parties or dinner conversation: “Do you know who my father is?”
The Nehru-Gandhi family is of course the most prominent political dynasty in the country with four generations of the family having ruled the country, but they are not the only ones. There are several dynasties across party lines all over the country. Here are some of them:
The Yadavs: Mulayam Singh Yadav, for long one of the most prominent leaders in Uttar Pradesh, handed over the reins of the state to his son Akhilesh Yadav when the party won elections in the state last year. Akhilesh had been a member of parliament but never held any state government post. He became the youngest chief minister of UP at the age of 38.
The Thackerays: One of Sonia Gandhi’s fiercest critics, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray slammed her and her family for running a “fiefdom” and then went ahead and did exactly the same thing. In 2004, Thackeray declared son Uddhav, a political novice, as leader of his right-wing party which has strong roots in Maharashtra. This angered another family member – nephew Raj – who left to form his own party. Uddhav, meanwhile, is carrying on in the footsteps of his father – grooming his son Aditya to take control of the party in the future.
The Pawars: Sharad Pawar is often called the most influential Indian politician who never became PM and his Nationalist Congress Party is one of the Congress’s most crucial allies. Pawar’s daughter, Supriya Sule is likely to take over from him as leader of the party, pipping cousin Ajit.
The Abdullahs: The National Conference, the party in power in Jammu and Kashmir, is also a prime example of dynastic politics. Three generations of the Abdullah family have controlled the party (Sheikh Abdullah, his son Farooq Abdullah and Farooq’s son Omar, who is currently CM) and the state since India’s independence in 1947.
Corporate India: Even big business houses are quite often family-run enterprises. The Birlas, the Tatas and the Ambanis, three names that signify wealth and entrepreneurship for Indians, have passed on the baton from generation to generation, rarely allowing outsiders to head their conglomerates. The Tata group’s famous search for a successor to Ratan Tata ended close to home with Cyrus Mistry, who is “ a Tata in all but name.”
Several newer business families, whether is it the Biyanis, the Adanis or even steel tycoon L N Mittal, have promoted their sons or daughters to prominent positions in their companies and making succession plans amply clear.
Bollywood: If ever there was a fiefdom in India, then it is located in Western Mumbai, and in the suburbs of Bandra and Juhu, where all of Bollywood reside. The landscape of the film industry is dotted with “star kids”, children of film personalities who are “launched” into the industry with much fanfare by their adoring parents, hoping that their children will continue to capture the imagination of audiences. The Bachchans, the Kapoors, the Chopras and pretty much every other film producer and director have all promoted their progeny in films, lack of talent notwithstanding.
Some have made it, some have fallen by the wayside, but they’ve all tried to make it on the strength of their famous last names.