(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
In the final stage of electioneering in Rajasthan, Narendra Modi highlighted the critical issue of “Democracy vs. Dynasty” in a stinging attack on his political rivals.
Surely, the issue is a major concern for the posterity of democracy.
Today, democracy virtually stands on the brink of collapse: dynastic, corrupt and inefficient. The evidence of “I-Me-Myself” obsession afflicting dynasties is almost absolute and pervasive. Even the most strident pro-dynasty democratic advocates cannot defend it.
Most apt is the comparison of Indian politics to the dancing elephant: ‘everyone for himself and god for us all,’ as the elephant said when he danced among the chicken.’ “Super Dynastic Rich” have replaced former “Monarchies” – nearly 538 monarchies in 1947 at the stroke of mid night hour.
Let me briefly highlight in outline the story of democracy in India. The founding fathers – over 200 personalities of consummate skills and fidelity – mostly idealistic chose parliamentary democracy with “first-past-the-post” method of elections. After painstaking deliberations and several modifications commencing in December 1946, the Constitution Assembly approved the draft Constitution on Nov 26, 1949; and law on 26 January, 1950. The emphasis in the Preamble is quite specific: supremacy of “We the People”. Furthermore, the end objectives were quite specific: “ensuring socio-economic justice” – good of the society or its welfare and security.
However, by original conception, democracy “of the people, by the people and for the people” was utopian and inappropriate to the chemistry of the ‘Great Indian Society’. Naturally, it has been deviously hijacked by “of the few; by the few; and, for the few” – Kleptocracy or the Neo-Maharajahs.
‘Chemistry” of societies and nations in perpetual transformation is the determinant of political order/concept best suited to realize their full potential. So, it must spring from below; not imposed from above.
But, democracy in practice is imposed from top by few autocrats (High Commands), masquerading as democrats and hijacked by criminals with all other institutions toeing their line.
Democracy everyone alike yearns and craves; but virtual impossibility. Lack of understanding of its riddles, most exciting and complex, are real. Plato, Socrates disciple, had pontificated over 2300 years ago (Republic, VIII, Sections 562b-563e) “democracy ruins itself by excess of democracy. …Mob rule is a rough sea for the ship of state to ride; every wind of oratory stirs up the waters and deflects the course. The upshot of such a democracy is tyranny or autocracy.”
Montesquieu in The Spirit of Laws (1748) had concluded that republics were best suited to the small countries, limited monarchies to the middle sized and more prosperous, and enlightened despotism’s to the large nations.
Will Durant in his book “Pleasures of Philosophy” published in 1929 stated: “democracy without education means hypocrisy without limitation; it means the degradation of statesmanship into politics; it means the expensive maintenance, in addition to the ruling class, of a large parasite class of politicians, whose function it is to serve the rulers and deceive the ruled”.
Rousseau stated “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains”. Freedom and order cannot co-exist. Freedom promotes anarchy; whereas order breeds tyranny.
Robert A Dahl has raised the issue “Is a third transformation of democratic limits and possibilities now on the horizon?” Polyarchy is his prescription. Dahl succinctly identified the need for the new paradigm to cater to developments of Technology Civilization Age.
Undeniably, India’s parliamentary democracy, socialism and secularism (national values) have developed distortions. Talk of socialism is hypocrisy; Crony capitalism is real; social integration remains utopia what with secularism threatened by communalism; and vote bank politics of appeasement based on caste and communal lines in pursuit of power to drive irretrievable wedge in the society.
With democracy developing many distortions hijacked by dynasties, most aptly, mutilated beyond recognition subverted and sabotaged, unprecedented disillusionment and disappointment among people is spreading. Democracy is on self destructive path: “A good form of government may hold rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue with few bad men among them.”
Lesson of India’s history is simple. Successive Indian monarchies got destroyed due to internal treachery and sabotage that paved the path for external aggressors to destroy by invasions. If we falter now to set the course of democracy on its right path, its eventual self destruction is inevitable.
A brief look at the likely events to follow provides a peep into posterity. Today, political developments are extraordinarily fluid, swift and dynamic. Entrenched leadership, old and senile, is rigidly bent upon maintaining status quo ante (dynastic propagation) for foisting their progeny.
Dynastic politics – family-based politics is thriving. Not just the nucleus family; husband, wife and kids but the extended family, and the extension of the extended family. The clan, tribes and biradri, and eventually community and the ethnicity politics are real. Biradri-based politics will only go away once biradris will go away, which is impossibility in a short term context.
Being a 5000 year old civilization, it is not easy to shed inherited “dynastic monarchy” as the political order. The socio-economic chemistry of society does not lend hope for wishing away ‘dynastic politics.’ Over the past nearly 68 years, those few wielding powers exploited loopholes in the system to perpetuate status quo ante – dynastic neo-monarchy. Ironically “Neo-Maharajahs” – bunch of self serving oligarchs or pseudo aristocrats – have hijacked democracy.
Furthermore, “Political and Media Grand Fraud Masters” – dynasties or neo-Maharajahs – are everywhere particularly in all political parties. There are 545 plus 250 (795) MPs – neo-Mahrajaha’s in both houses of the Parliament. Add to them, the total number of MLAs and MLCs in states and union territories – 4215 MLAs plus 7 states having MLCs with other States wanting to create them. Also, there are others at the lower end of the spectrum of democracy – Zilla Parishads and Mandals.
What is most worrisome is political leaders and their spokespersons penchant for Goebbelsian lies: “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth”. Thomas Macaulay, pioneer of English education in India, stated “Indians are fools and we can easily play with their emotions with one simple rule – “Repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth.” “Gas lighting” is its new American term.
Undeniably, elected representatives have scant regard for debate, dialogue, negotiation, reconciliation and consensus – key elements of democratic processes. Their acrimonious behavior – rushing into the well, tearing papers, breaking mikes etc – inside the “Temple of Democracy”, is incredible. Is it carry forward of confrontational politics in streets by all parties or is it schizophrenia on display? Confrontational politics over “Rafale”, CBI vs CBI, and so on are bound to take center stage.
The current state of Indian politics is truly bizarre – at odds with the nation’s founding principles. Ipso facto, many children of successful politicians, quite often, opt for politics as profession irrespective of merit. Political families have mastered the science of exploiting systems imperfections in popular representation to remain in power for eternity.
If one dynasty falls, another dynasty rises. However, the flip side of political dynasties provides a different perspective. Dynasties have long been present in democracies world over. So, they play a legitimate role in national affairs – either good or bad.
Factually, only 3% of India’s present MPs represent political dynasties founded by pre-democratic aristocratic monarchies of the pre-1947 era. Due to reservations, Indian democracy has become more broad based and representative. New dynasties have acquired political office through the electoral process and sponsored the entry of other family members. Sharing political power to new social groups entails transfer of power to their descendants. Now, the process appears irreversible. Thus, the new ruling class or neo-Maharajahs, as Modi highlighted, is real.
What is disconcerting is 29% of the current Indian Parliament consists of those whose family members – fathers, mothers, siblings, husbands, wives, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins or in-laws – preceded them in politics. At least another 5% had family members either enter politics simultaneously, or follow them. 34% of parliamentarians with family ties are a rather large number for any democracy.
Of course, all regions have produced a fair share of parliamentarians with dynastic ties. Similarly, all social categories are associated with significant proportions of such parliamentarians: 66% of Muslim parliamentarians, 25% of parliamentarians from Scheduled Caste seats, 28% of parliamentarians from Scheduled Tribe seats and 34% of the rest, have family ties.
Look at the ever expanding list of political dynasties in India: Nehru-Gandhi’s; Abdullah’s (J & K); Scindia’s; Mulayam Singh Yadavs (UP); Badals; Patnaik’s (Orissa), Karunanidhi’s (Tamil Nadu), Chautala’s (Haryana); Lalu Yadavs (Bihar), the KCR (Telangana); CB Naidu (Andhra Pradesh); Chavans of Nanded, the Reddys of Kadapa; Naiks of Maharashtra; Gogois of Assam; Thackerays of Maharashtra; and so on. Unlike in other democracies, daughters also form part of political dynasties in India. For example, Priyanka Ghandy, Supriya Sule, Kanimozhi, Kavita, and so on.
Almost all new regional political parties are founder parties. A founder party is a party which sustains around the personality and ideology of its leader. And, kinship often continues to play an important role in determining the ruling class. Family links between politicians also play an important part. For their children, it is the easy path to prosperity and power. Relatives sometimes continue the political project begun by elders in repressive regimes. Many other factors may also play a role.
The justification of Neo-Maharajaha’s is that even their children have to win elections to get into the system. Parents can only ensure they become party candidates. Ultimately, people decide their fate.
None can deny that a dynasty confers on a political party substantial advantage – legitimacy, recognition, mass appeal, and most importantly extensive network. Political experience is vital. Politicians who are part of a dynasty strategize for the long term because they’re mindful of the family name and the clan’s political future. Even if they enrich their families in the process, as they often do, they may take better care of their constituents as well.
Pro-dynasty crony’s strongly believe that shorter tenures often yield to populist demands and shun difficult but necessary reforms. A longer tenure allows a legislator to accumulate political capital – financial or human capital, name recognition, or contacts. As long as India’s dynasties deliver, political parties will accept, defend and promote them. Even when they stumble, if they retain the capacity to recover, they will survive.
In sum, political dynasties are a product of democracy itself and cannot be wished away. Of course, their prevalence is a violation of merit and competence as they restrict the best and most competent into politics. However, “neo-Mahrajahas” will survive as long as the political parties remain founder-based and the political capital is transferred only through the first family. In retrospect, dynastic politics is likely to increase in the near future as well.
The causes of dynastic politics lie in the structure of two democratic institutions: the state and political parties. The large returns associated with state office and the organizational weakness of political parties is responsible for the emergence of dynastic politics.
However, the darker side of dynastic politics probably outweighs the positives. Ipso facto, it is the “High Command or the core or coterie or caucus’ culture that is contra democracy in spirit and sense. They are better known than their party. Hardly, there is scope for internal debate and dissent.
Their word is final. Most decisions are taken behind closed doors flocked by faithfulls, sycophants or “Yes” men acting like rubber stamps. Also, they live in “royal style” in New Delhi and other State capital bungalow’s at tax payers money. And they are held in demi-God status. They select candidates to stand in elections and even ministers and their portfolios.
In hindsight, dynastic majority are professional mercenaries. Sacrifice does not exist in their dictionaries. They crave for power, wealth, status, perks and privileges. Many of them are not in politics profession to serve people, but to protect, promote and advance their self and progeny interests followed by their follower’s interests. They shift loyalties to whichever party offers better prospects.
Furthermore, dynastic politics blocks the entry of new candidates and makes elections less competitive. But, the real damage to democracy from dynastic politics comes from the violation of democratic ideals. A ruling class based on birth is a prima facie violation of these ideals.
How long political dynasties will, therefore, survive in India? After all, the growing educated middle-class is challenging the institution of dynasty. Next, the question arises whether dynastic government would be fitting for the world’s largest democracy and their effect on effective governance?
If dynasticism is to be phased out, it is simple – prescribe fixed tenures, particularly 2 tenures for the Prime Ministers like that of the Presidents post in USA and Chief Minister’s post.
Let me recount the American luminary Joseph Story’s comments in 1883 on democracy in USA: “The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; ….. And its defenses are impregnable from without. It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its only keeper, THE PEOPLE. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.”
Political sage’s cautions or warnings are quite implicit and explicit. They forebode dangerous portends for the survival of parliamentary democracy based on first-past-the-post electoral system due to “dynastic politics” hell bent upon “I-Me-Myself” or self-centric obsession. If democracy – liberty, equality and fraternity – is to consolidate and advance, people will have to banish the “Neo-Maharajahs” pretenders masquerading as leaders from politics, which is the only escape route.