Opinion

Princes continue to rule the States of India

NV Krishnakumar | Updated on January 16, 2018

Keeping it all In the family   -  chrisbrignell/shutterstock.com

Dynastic dispensation has overrun the body politic, edging out democracy and moral fibre in equal measure



According to Article 1 of the Constitution of India, “India, that is Bharat, shall be a Union of States”. The framers of our Constitution could have never imagined that India would slide back to a “Union of Princely States”. According to Wikipedia, just before Partition, India was an amalgamation of 567 princely states under British rule. For more than 60 years, since Independence, our government has been the fiefdom of one family. Now, the States are slowly but surely sliding back to becoming fiefdoms of political dynasties.

From Kanyakumari to Kashmir, politics at the State level is dominated by powerful families. In Tamil Nadu, the baton is about to be handed over to Stalin, son of M Karunanidhi who was chief minister of the State for about 20 years. Telangana is certain to remain the fiefdom of K Chandrashekar Rao’s family for many years to come. His son and daughter are already minister and Member of Parliament respectively; and many members of the extended family hold similar positions. The family of NT Rama Rao and YS Rajashekar Reddy dominate politics in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda’s family is a force to reckon with in Karnataka with the newest entrant to politics being his daughter-in-law who, if not for reservation, would have been conferred president of a zilla panchayat.

Bad to worse

If it is bad enough in south India, it is a lot worse in the north with both the ruling and opposition parties dominated by dynasties. In Kashmir, the Abduallahs and the Muftis are the dominant force. Soon after the death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the People Democratic Party did not even make a pretence of following democratic processes before handing over the reins to his daughter. In Punjab, the ruling Akali Dal and opposition Congress are dominated by two families. In Rajasthan, the current chief minister is grooming her son to take over the reins of the State. And in Maharashtra, Pawars and the Thackareys will be a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future. As Amit Shah, president of the BJP, put it succinctly after the 2014 parliamentary election, in Uttar Pradesh, the “seats lost by the BJP and its allies were all won by parivars”. The Nehru family is still a dominant force in the State with the bahus and grandchildren of his daughter being MPs. Mulayam Singh who anointed his son as chief minister after the last Assembly election, has his bahu and brothers backing him in Parliament. In Bihar, when Lalu Prasad Yadav had to demit office, he did not think twice before handing over the reins to his wife. After the spectacular comeback of his party, two of his sons are ministers and one of them can be safely deemed to be chief minister in waiting. And in Assam, the ex-chief minister is grooming his son who is already an MP, to be the numero uno in the State.

The fatal flaws

At the heart of dynastic politics in India, are two fatal flaws — corruption and patronage. The rewards of political office offer much higher returns than occupying the C-suite in corporate India. In the post-liberalisation era, all things government — land, spectrum, mining rights, government contracts — were highly sought after and hence the reward for awarding rights and contracts fetched immense returns to those who occupied political office. As Tarun Das, former head of CII was heard saying on the infamous Radia Tapes, “a minimum of 15 per cent was skimmed” from contracts. Thus in the era of liberalisation there have been more rags to riches story in politics than in business.

Patronage too has been highly rewarding in Indian democracy. Party high commands act as patrons and hence it pays to be subservient to party bosses. From distribution of tickets in various elections to Rajya Sabha and Vidhan Parishad seats, favours are doled out by political parties to supreme loyalists. And parties occupying the corridors of power in State Assemblies and at the Centre have much more to offer — governorship of States, board Chairmen, directorship in PSUs, and heads of various government institutions.

To improve governance, our Prime Minister recently mooted simultaneous election to Parliament and the State Assemblies. But the problem in Indian democracy is not about year-round elections. Patronage politics, family-owned political parties and corrupt means of acquiring government assets are much more troubling. While economic reforms and better governance can reduce corruption, political reforms are sine qua non for ending patronage politics. In the long-term interest of the country, Modi and the Government must join hands with the Election Commission to reform politics too.

The writer is a Bengaluru-based money manager

Published on October 12, 2016

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