The standalone politician has come of age. This message was reinforced in the assembly elections to five states. The dividends of dynasty are diminishing in parties, though this is not to say that those from political families who have earned their political stripes are to be taken lightly. But the time when a political son or daughter could be foisted on an electorate are over.
Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress supremo, has charted her own course out of the paras of Kolkata to Writers Building with no baggage barring occasional talk of an over-ambitious nephew. Jayalalithaa did have the advantage of a mentor like MGR, but she, too, has made her way up in a hostile political environment on her own.
The recent successes like Nitish Kumar in Bihar, Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and Narendra Modi at the Centre are all leaders who have no relatives as hangers-on hoping to partake of their political good fortune.
This is a welcome turn in politics though the trend of favouring family members has yet to fade away. In the Congress party, dynasty has always been a fact of life, but now it would appear that it is not paying off as much as it once did. It is clear that howsoever reluctant politicians may be, they are being forced to reflect the direction in which society is moving, that which rewards merit over blood lines.
However, there are many instances of successful politicians who are sons or daughters and have proven their mettle in political positions they have occupied. The initial advantage may lie in the name, but the people, especially the young, are not willing to accept that this alone makes a person worthy of high office. In Assam, the fact that outgoing chief minister Tarun Gogoi tried to foist his son on the state did not go down well with the people and certainly cost his party many votes. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK made the cardinal blunder of first hinting that MK Stalin may be the possible chief minister only to backtrack and put forward the ageing M Karunanidhi as the candidate.
The DMK is also seen as a family party, where corruption and inefficiency are rewarded, thanks to the fortuitous circumstances of birth. To its credit, the BJP has not encouraged dynastic politics, relatives may have benefited, but not by inheriting political legacies, barring a few cases. The regional parties like the SP and RJD have projected sons and daughters but they have yet to prove themselves even though important positions were handed to them over other deserving people. Family will matter not just in India but in sub-continental politics for a long time to come but, increasingly, succession on the basis of birth is no longer guaranteed.