India Insight

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.

What is Indira Gandhi’s legacy?

It is former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s 25th death anniversary on October 31. 

What was her legacy?

She was associated with events like the Emergency, which briefly made Gerald Ford head of the largest democracy in the world, and decades of militancy in Punjab.

Her policy of nationalising banks was mentioned as a reason why the Indian banking sector weathered the global financial crisis.

Dynasty in Politics: How much is too much?

At a recent family gathering, a cousin of mine expressed her desire to be a doctor. Not surprising, considering her parents are both in the same profession, and run a prominent hospital. It seems only natural that she will take the baton forward.

However, to get there, she will still have to go through the grind. Study for at least six years, serve in a rural posting, burn the midnight oil and gain some experience before she can fulfil her dream.

Rajendra Shekhawat has a similar story. He also wants to take up his mother’s profession and take on the baton, so to speak. The difference is that he may not necessarily have to go through the grind. His mother, Pratibha Patil, after all, is the President of India and Shekhawat has been given a ticket by the Congress party to fight the assembly elections from Amravati in northern Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest states.