B S Raghavan

Handling political succession process

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on March 12, 2018

Reports are doing the rounds that Rahul Gandhi is most likely to be appointed Vice-President of the Congress party. This will, of course, provide a measure of relief to Sonia Gandhi, who is bearing the multiple responsibilities of the President of the Party, Chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and of the National Advisory Council (NAC). It should cause no surprise if the arrangement is also meant to groom Rahul as a successor to his mother in due course, as and when the necessity arises.

This kind of forethought should be welcomed in a context in which the culture of succession planning is yet to take roots in organisations and institutions in India. The incumbents continue indefinitely, often under sufferance, even after they have outlived their purpose or utility, or after everybody is fed up with them, because of the supposed TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor.

Actually, TINA itself is a mythical argument. The real problem is the ostrich-like unwillingness to face up to the circumstances that are bound to emerge sometime or other which will make finding a successor a compelling necessity.

This burking of the inevitable is built into the Indian culture itself. Even writing a will is put off for as long as possible; as regards telling an aging parent or elder to write a will, perish the thought.

However, succession planning is not unknown in organisations. Rotary and Lions Clubs, and generally, chambers of business and industry, have a system whereby fixed tenures are laid down for office-bearers and the elected Vice-President automatically takes over as the President on completion of the latter’s tenure.

As regards governmental succession, the US and the Indian Constitutions have envisaged the Vice-President to succeed the President in case the former is to be replaced for reasons of resignation, disability or death.

Under the Constitutions of some European countries, a resolution of no confidence can be brought only if it specifies who will lead or constitute the successor government. Mature and seasoned parliamentary democracies tide over the issue either by consensus or through the device of a shadow cabinet whose head is usually taken to be in line for premiership.


In India, the most famous instance of initiating the succession process in politics is that of Mahatma Gandhi who expressly and publicly proclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru as his political successor. It was, on Gandhiji’s part, an act unparalleled magnanimity and courage. For one thing, Gandhiji knew that on many fundamental matters of approach and strategy in conducting the freedom struggle, Nehru had not been seeing eye-to-eye with him. But still, he believed, after he was gone, Nehru would speak his language.

For another, he disclosed his choice not at the fag end of the freedom struggle, but when it was at its height. And he did so going over the heads of titans such as Sardar Patel, Rajendra Prasad, Abul Kalam Azad and Rajaji.

If someone were to make a similar announcement today, the various leaders who were passed over would have instantly broken away from the party and started their own different factions.

In India, the issue is complicated by the absence of inner party democracy in most Indian political parties. Nevertheless, they have learnt to get round the problem within their respective parties.

The Congress party has so far managed the situation by means of the unwritten law of dynastic succession, passing the mantle from parent to offspring. Some other parties such as Samajwadi Party, DMK and Shiromani Akali Dal have also taken the cue from it and seem to be none the worse for it.

But even the Congress is not equal to the task of figuring out who the successor to Manmohan Singh should be or deciding whom it should project to the electorate as its next prime ministerial candidate.

The problem has assumed the thorniest complexion for the BJP. It has tied itself into knots over the choice of the person to be selected as its prime ministerial candidate. What can it do when everyone who is anyone in the party comports himself as the next PM?

The problem arises simply because neither party has leaders who have Gandhiji’s courage to identify the successor based on the criteria of acceptance and suitability and letting the country know in advance.

Published on September 30, 2012

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