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Clash of the political titans, desi-style

Political dynasties are among democratic India’s greatest paradoxes. Over the last two decades, this trend, which started in the Congress, has spread. Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana… there are political dynasties in every other state. Abhijit Patnaik reports.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2010 23:48 IST
Abhijit Patnaik

Political dynasties are among democratic India’s greatest paradoxes.

Over the last two decades, this trend, which started in the Congress, has spread. Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana… there are political dynasties in every other state.

The jury is out on whether this is good for Indian democracy or bad, but from the available evidence, it is fair to conclude that they are here to stay.

Farooq Abdullah, who succeeded his father Sheikh Abdullah, has already handed over the baton to his son Omar, and Mulayam Singh Yadav is grooming his son Akhilesh to head the Samajwadi Party in future.

It has been said that for everything that is true in India the opposite is also true.

That is, perhaps, how democracy coexists — mostly happily — with feudal succession norms in many political parties.

Mahesh Rangarajan, a well-known political commentator, has an interesting take on this. “Kinship can be used to launch talent, but eventually, the electorate decides. Look at the case of Lakshmi Parvathi in Andhra Pradesh (see A history of family feuds). Party structures in India are not democratic. Faced with a 60-year-old democracy, kinship is re-inventing itself,” he says.

Sometimes, the succession is a given, as with the Abdullahs. Some, like RJD chief Lalu Prasad handing over the chief ministership of Bihar to wife Rabri Devi, are driven by circumstances (Lalu was charged in the fodder scam case, making his continuation as CM untenable). Some others are bitterly fought over.

In Punjab, Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal looks set to succeed his father Parkash Singh Badal, though other family members, such as cousin Manpreet Badal hold important positions in party and government (Manpreet is state finance minister).
Maharashtra has two unresolved succession plans in play. The first involves the Thackerays.

When Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray anointed his son Uddhav as his successor, his nephew Raj rebelled, walked out of the party and floated Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has steadily been gnawing away at the Shiv Sena’s parochial votebank.

Who between Uddhav and Raj will finally inherit Thackeray Sr’s political legacy is still an open question.

The other unresolved succession plan is in the NCP. Though party chief Sharad Pawar has clarified that this will be done
democratically, many people believe that he is preparing the ground for his MP daughter Supriya Sule to succeed him.

As evidence, they point to his exclusion of nephew Ajit Pawar, who has spent 20 years in Maharashtra politics, from his party’s working committee. Sule, significantly, is a member. In 2009, Pawar shot down a proposal to appoint Ajit as the state’s deputy chief minister.

A few counter-examples also exist.

Former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekhar Reddy’s son Jagan Mohan’s attempts to succeed his father were successfully thwarted by the party.

“In the Congress, succession applies only to the top,” laments Rangarajan.