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In the name of the father (or mother)

Dynastic succession seems to have become the norm not just in India but the whole of the Asian subcontinent and perhaps even beyond (famously the Kennedys and the Bushs in the US), writes Sujata Anandan.

india Updated: Jan 01, 2008 23:59 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times

"Hamare desh mein doctor ka beta doctor aur neta ka beta neta,” goes the latest Videocon ad featuring Shahrukh Khan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, all the rage on television these days. But why just hamara desh? Dynastic succession seems to have become the norm not just in India but the whole of the Asian subcontinent and perhaps even beyond (famously the Kennedys and the Bushs in the US). Begum Zia succeeded her husband Zia ur Rehman in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina was propelled to the top job in her country largely because of her father Mujibur Rehman’s legacy. Sirimavo Bandanaike succeeded husband Solomon Bandarnaike and

Chandrika Kumaratunga her parents in Sri Lanka, and Benazir Bhutto followed in the footsteps of father Zulfikar Ali in Pakistan. But the smoothness with which Benazir’s young son Bilawal, not even old enough to vote in Pakistan until a few months ago, has succeeded his mother to the post of chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (with father Asif Ali Zardari playing Prince Regent) has left me breathless. This succession was smoother than the Nehru-Gandhis ever achieved when former Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in similar fashion, mid-election, in 1991. It took seven years or more for his widow Sonia Gandhi to take over the reins of the Congress and that, too, in a most tentative fashion. Their son Rahul’s succession is not yet determined beyond doubt but when even the BJP hands out tickets to an assortment of sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, I wonder why for years have we been blaming the Gandhis for being dynasts and India alone for feudalism?

I have my own issues with feudalism and dynastic successions in democracies but I have tempered my views on this issue over the years — a doctor’s son has an edge over others for admission to a medical college, a neta’s son for a ticket. When good friend Milind Deora fought and won a difficult election against all expectations in 2004, I saw dynastic democracy at play first hand. Since then I have seen how hard Milind works to keep up the goodwill his father, Union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, generated over decades and which the people of his constituency transferred to him. I do not think anyone should grudge him this early success in life. In any case, both Milind and Priya Dutt (who succeeded father Sunil Dutt as MP from Bombay North West) have their work cut out at the next elections which will show if they truly deserved their jobs or if the doors opened too early for them just on account of their more illustrious fathers.

The door has certainly opened rather too early for Supriya Sule — although Sharad Pawar was very correct in getting his daughter to interact with the masses in his constituency and carve out a niche among tribals and women for herself. The early spark, though, has failed to ignite a fire largely because, I believe, her cousin Ajit, himself a product of dynastic democracy, has subtly sabotaged her chances. Soon after Surpiya was inducted into the NCP by her father, Ajit was overheard telling people who were egging him on against his cousin that induction into the party does not automatically make for succession.

“Look at Rahul Gandhi. He is an MP, too. But does it mean he is automatically Number Two in the Congress?”
Certainly not as yet. But his mother is sure making him work towards it. And now no one really can object, for did not Shatrughan Sinha once very famously question why the BJP was handing out tickets to Jaswant Singh’s son and C. P. Thakur’s relatives? Even Atal Behari Vajpayee’s niece was given a ticket to the last Lok Sabha elections. Now there are many sons-in-waiting in Maharashtra, too, who are slowly coming to grips with their fathers’ legacies and of whom we may see much more in the future.

The most notable of these is Amit, son of Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. In charge of his father’s political constituency, I find Amit to be the kind of intelligent, measured youngster that Deshmukh greatly needs as a PR person for himself. Only, he is not suitable for the job simply because he is too close to the Chief Minister and that tie of blood automatically puts him out of the reckoning. Deshmukh is wise to keep him hidden from the public eye for as long as is possible, for excessive media exposure could completely ruin his chances when the time to launch him publicly finally arrives.

I am quite impressed by Vishawajit Kadam, too — son of Minister for Co-operatives Patangrao Kadam, a young man who is now perhaps completely in charge of his father’s vast political and education empire. Vishawajit has the measure of everything his father should have, the people he should know and consort with, the people he should cultivate, those he should avoid. Even Kadam, though, keeps his son from the public domain for much the same reason the Chief Minister does his own — they will work with the party and their fathers’ constituents without much ado until their time arrives. When it does, I am sure these two will be worthy successors to their self-made and successful fathers. Until then their faces will adorn no posters or hoardings.

I am not so sure about Narayan Rane’s sons though (their faces have been plastered all over town for quite some time now). Rane’s apparent reason for quitting the Shiv Sena a couple of years ago was the manner in which Uddhav Thackeray was thrust upon the party by its supremo, Bal Thackeray. There are many nasty things he had said about Uddhav’s succession, yet he did not seem to have any problems with Raj Thackeray’s demand that his uncle hand over the party to him simply because he was Balasaheb’s nephew. He had even less problem with hailing Rahul Gandhi as a future leader when he was made general secretary of the Congress. But Rane does not show similar patience to ease his sons into dynastic succession by making them work through the ranks as Rahul, Amit and Vishwajit are doing now. And why should he? For, where Rane hails from, muscle power means everything — trample everybody in sight and take whatever you want even if you do not have the right to it. That is how the Sena works and so does Rane.

So I was not surprised in the least when the NCP erupted into protests last week after their legislators discovered their names were dropped from invitations to a government-sponsored youth meet in Sindhudurg to be replaced by Nitesh Rane’s, who has no locus standi in the matter all, except for the fact that he is the local legislator’s son.

Deshmukh and Kadam, who are grooming their respective sons, are always very correct — Amit and Vishwajit might hang around such events but it is clear the place of precedence goes to local legislators and other public representatives. But Rane is a man in a hurry — not only to become Chief Minster but also to ensure no one other than his sons succeed him in that job.

However, he is up against the true dynamics of Indian democracy. Feudalism works here, as elsewhere on the subcontinent, only so long as it is oiled by the wheels of popular consent, combined with ability for the job in hand. Sonia Gandhi knows that well enough as does Zardari in Pakistan. So both are content, as are Deshmukh and Kadam, to wait for their sons to come of age — however long that might take. But in the haste to open the doors for himself, I believe, Rane is shutting even the windows on his own sons. And haste, as they says, mostly makes for waste.