In her second book, The Dynasty: Born to Rule, journalist Sunita Aron tackles a subject that is rarely thoughtfully addressed. “Dynastic politics is a hard reality today in many parts of the world, undoubtedly an antithesis of democracy as it stifles openness, dissent and opportunities. But the bigger reality is that even if people discuss, debate and detest dynastic politics, they do not dump dynasts,” she writes. The author begins with Sonia Gandhi’s entry into politics, compares her to mother-in-law Indira, follows her rise to power in 2004, looks at the rise of Rahul and Priyanka, and at the fall of the party in the 2014 polls. “It is ironical that the dynasty that helped in the spectacular comeback of the Congress in 2004, proved a liability in 2014. Party workers saw it coming but they perhaps preferred defeat to dynasty. Not even once did they question the Gandhis or their decisions,” she writes.
Aron goes beyond the Nehru-Gandhis, the ‘first family’ of Indian politics, and looks at other political families in the country — Mulayam Singh Yadav and son Akhilesh, Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family, Sharad Pawar, his nephew Ajit and daughter Supriya Sule, Bal Thackeray and his family, the Badals in Punjab, and M Karunanidhi’s brood in Tamil Nadu.
Moving from national politics to regional parties, she examines how each of these families has built itself as a brand and studies the psyche of party-workers and voters who believe political acumen is in one’s genes.
The author provides a wealth of information about each political dynasty and draws skillfully from existing writing to present insights about the financial position of political parties and about how members of dynasties manage to survive: “Principal dynasts rarely lose elections as their victory is quite often scripted and stage-managed. They survive even when their party sinks… either the voters spare them or their rivals oblige them,” she writes. “Dynasties grow as their opponents allow them walkover by fielding weak candidates in elections after elections”. She also talks of rivalries within the dynasties.
Talking about marriages that are also political alliances, Aron cautions, “However, there is a flip side to these political weddings too as mother-son, brother-brother, son-in-law and father-in-law, husband-wife have often clashed in the electoral arena.”
Aron delves into these dynamics without trying to influence the reader one way or the other and lays bare the positions of today’s prime political players without passing judgement. Readers are allowed to draw their own conclusions.
The big question comes in the epilogue: Will dynasties survive? “I think dynasties may ebb in years to come not because the party workers or the public would move out of the feudalistic mindset, but because the new generation politicians lack the political wisdom and passion of their forefathers who had to struggle hard for their families to grow in the political world. The fact is that they have not earned their positions but have been served on a platter,” writes Aron.
A book this rich in content deserved a better editor. But the nitty-gritties of language should perhaps matter little to the serious student of Indian politics at whom this book is aimed.
The Dynasty: Born To Rule
Rs 699; Pages 352