My Dear Friend Shashi,
I know you to be a scholar, a writer of books, a connoisseur of words, a master of turn of phrase and above all a good human being. That is why I was surprised at your seemingly nonchalant and lazy defence of dynasties in Indian politics. It all struck me as less than serious. It seemed an easy escape from having to explain why dynasties flourish in the Indian democracy. Above all it read like an apology for the almost listless dynasty that currently sits unchallenged atop the once glorious Congress.
You argued that “our society is characterised by transmission of talent through the gene pool. If one wants to be a Bollywood star, it helps if your father is a Bollywood star.” You went on the say there is dynastic thread in the Indian scientific and business world; the businesses are inherited. Since our society functions on dynastic basis, one mustn’t expect politics to be an exception, you opined.
In fact there are lots of reasons in the world for us to expect politics to be different. Why should the opportunity to lead in politics depend on being “transmitted through the gene pool?” I would have thought you would have argued in favour of all being equally free to pursue politics in any political party. A true equality of opportunity is the cornerstone of democratic politics. The thought implicit and explicit in your remarks is so undemocratic. When I first read your words, they haunted me. It frightened me to think that you might believe what you had offered as a justification of the dynastic politics in India.
As I pondered a bit on our Indian experience, it became clear that in India across the ages the only ironclad transmission of “talent through the gene pool” has been through the caste system; and it was a system, still is, that transmitted caste slavery “through the gene pool.” Yet the slavery had nothing to with the genes of the slaves. Slavery wasn’t and isn’t a skill or talent. It was a condition of the survival of the caste slave. One was born a slave. Nay, one was consigned to slavery, even before germinating in the male genitals, before exiting a mother’s womb, even way before that–when one’s ancestors weren’t yet conceived or even planned. Centuries before their birth, men and women to be conceived in the future were preselected to be slaves.
Professions and occupations were ‘preordained’ as was their social and economic servitude. With or without inheriting the “talent gene”, one certainly ‘inherited’ one’s ‘place gene’ in society as the oppressed and the persecuted; the vicious cycle has gone on for centuries–“transmitted” through the social system the–talent genes or skills genes be damned. It is this terrible political and socio-economic albatross around our civilisation’s neck that continues to impede India’s progress. For those of us–at least many of us, not born to caste slavery, it has become second nature, spoken or silent cardinal sin, to believe this is how things have always worked; therefore it must be thus forever and in every walk of life–“transmission of talent through genes”.
To prove your assertion that dynastic rule over political parties can be democratic, you cited the example of Kumar Gaurav, a child of Bollywood, who didn’t make it, his initial movies flopping at the box office. Your logic in this argument implied that dynastic ascendance to the top of the political ladder was justified and democratic since there was the possibility of failure. But you forget that in dynasties, there are lot of blood relatives, distant or near, standing ready to take the throne, pre-empting any democratic takeover of the political enterprise. That is the real nub of the problem.
And then you defended Rahul Gandhi’s unopposed elevation to the near top of the Congress party and declared him a democratically successful dynast. Using your box office analogy, how do you deem Rahul, a success? Hasn’t he already appeared as the lead campaigner, as would a lead actor in Bollywood, in 2014 and 2017 elections; both times with terribly humiliating results at the ballot box?
Your oversight in not considering Rahul’s total record in declaring him a success, when the rest of the world beyond the ever diminishing Congress coterie considers him an utter failure, made me believe that by defending the dynasty politics in India as a natural outgrowth of the Indian experience and society, you were essentially, though inadvertently, making an apology for the failure of the Congress party to democratise itself.
It once used to be a party with a great deal of inner democracy. At the moment of this writing it has absolutely none. The party itself has been reduced to a shrivelled shell of its admirable previous incarnation as the liberator of India from British imperialism.
You see Bollywood is a private business of art and entertainment. India doesn’t, mustn’t and can’t elect its Bollywood performers. Some get in through nepotism, via genes, in other words; others through talent; eventually the box office rules. The business of governing or wanting to govern India isn’t and can’t be private business. It has to be a completely transparent public undertaking. There is no such transparency or democracy for the public to see in the Congress party; in it complete and utter sycophancy rules. The modern Congresswallahs have always argued dynasties are not undemocratic because in the end the ballot box rules; but they forget that sycophancy in the party, not democracy, thrusts the dynast on to the ballot in the first place; only then can the dynast prove his/her ability to sink or swim at the ballot box; and that opportunity to reach the top, to sink and swim, is undemocratically denied to others who are not dynasts. It is this denial that makes dynasty the death of democracy.
The argument made to support the Congress’ blind obeisance to the Nehru Gandhis is absurd. At the core of this argument is a fallacy that has taken Congress to its death bed. You and I both know that the internal democracy of political parties is vital for a healthy democracy. The Congress has been without too much internal democracy for too long and lately it has had none in the way it chooses its national leaders, state leaders or its candidates in the elections. And unfortunately we recently witnessed the beginnings of the deadly virus of dynastic behaviour in the way the established BJP politicians fought for and succeeded in having their children and relatives selected as candidates in the state elections. And true internal democracy was also banished in the election of the chief minister of UP; his/her selection should legitimately been done by the MLAs. They were not allowed to select unencumbered their legislative leader, the CM of UP. The strong man Narendra Modi dictated from Delhi and imposed Yogi Aditiyanth.
With the Congress already too enfeebled and decaying by the day with sycophancy and internal dynastic dictatorship, the recent and clear beginning of the sycophantic and authoritarian rot in the BJP, the new governing party of India, portends even a greater danger for democracy in India.
My friend a thriving democracy in India needs all the major political parties to practice, encourage and respect internal party democracy. Of internal democracy, the current Congress has next to none. In all good conscience one can’t defend the present state of utter internal undemocracy in Congress; and your argument disappointed me because it seemed to be defending internal party undemocracy. In friendship, may I beg forgiveness, if I am wrong in my reading of your remarks.