Home / Politics / Policy /  India’s political dynasties

The 16th general election will see the passing of the baton between two generations. In normal course, this is a development that should be welcomed because younger people are entering politics. But this is overshadowed by larger concerns about this transition merely concentrating power in one family. Yashwant Sinha, P. Chidambaram and Lalu Yadav will see their children replace them as candidates in this election.

Taken along with what we know about India’s first political family, the Nehru-Gandhis, this has triggered a debate about the unfairness of dynastic politics. The argument is very simple. This kind of a hand-me-down of political power creates an entry barrier for other candidates—an obvious no-no in a democracy.

That’s a simplistic view.

Reality is far more complex.

In my own case, my father was a journalist. My choice of journalism as a profession was influenced by my exposure to journalism and the business of news (thanks to my father), but neither my brother nor my sister was similarly touched.

I believe it is somewhat similar in politics. Sachin Pilot summed this up in a public interaction when a participant confronted him on the issue of political dynasties. Very candidly, Pilot conceded that his advent into politics was triggered because of his familial connections. (He replaced his father, Rajesh Pilot, who died in a tragic road accident in 2000). However, he pointed out that while he did benefit from the sympathy wave in his first electoral win, he won subsequent elections because of the work he did.

To an extent, people are right in saying that hailing from a political dynasty provides an advantage, but the bigger barrier to entry into politics, in actual fact, is money power. Here, the solution is to force transparency in the funding of political parties. It is the worst kept secret of Indian politics that politicians spend way beyond the official cap put in place by the Election Commission.

That said, it is clear that the enabling ecosystem of Indian politics is undergoing a change. It is becoming easier for even bit-players or individuals to make their presence felt. The successful debut of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi has demonstrated that the country is even willing to accommodate a third force in Indian politics—which, till a few years back, was occupied by the Left parties.

If, indeed, this change does play out as most of us expect it to, it will fundamentally alter the landscape of Indian politics. After that, dynastic roots would be neither a necessity nor a sufficient condition to enter politics.

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