Fifth Column: Ballot box feudalism

Since the Prime Minister sees black money as one of our biggest problems, we must hope that in pursuance of his search for it, he will start inquiring into the finances of our political dynasties.

Written by Tavleen Singh | Published:January 29, 2017 12:05 am
assembly election, elections, india democracy, election money, up elections, punjab elections, samajwadi party, dynasty politics, goa elections, rajnath goa, goa, uttarakhand elections, india news In almost every political family these days you will find one member who turns out to be an extraordinarily skillful businessman. (Source: Express Photo by Pramod Adhikari/Representational)

Is it just me or have you noticed how elections in our proud democracy now resemble battles between medieval warlords? In Punjab we have the Badal dynasty fighting a real Maharaja and, in the vast and wondrous state of Uttar Pradesh we just witnessed a civil war in the Yadav dynasty. It has now been happily resolved with the Yadav prince teaming up with the Congress prince to take on the BJP. Is this democracy or an insidious form of feudalism? How have we come to such a pass that we in the media have accepted this new democratic normal with such equanimity?

Every now and then some snarky commentator (like your humble columnist) points out, as I do this week, that Indian democracy is in danger of being destroyed by electoral feudalism. But I find myself in a shrinking minority because most of my fellow pundits speak of the political heirs that have taken over most of our states as ‘leaders’. So in Tamil Nadu the battle for supremacy is now between the late chief minister’s best friend and her formerly unknown niece. When this internal friction in the ruling party is resolved, the fight will be against yet another dynasty. In Bihar the very virtuous chief minister has let the Lalu dynasty take charge of one of our poorest, most backward states, while he seeks a higher role.

My problem with ballot box feudalism is that despite needing electoral reaffirmation every five years, it remains feudalism. And in the end, it is all about money. During the Yadav civil war in UP did you observe that the warring factions travelled in convoys of expensive foreign SUVs and that they all lived in palatial mansions? Where did the money come from to support this kind of lifestyle? Ask yourself the question and you will quickly discover the reason why so many dynasties litter India’s political landscape.

The ugly truth is that a political career is the easiest way to make a lot of money very quickly. This money is always black but because tax inspectors dare not raid our ‘leaders’, the average Indian never finds out. The accumulation of black money begins as soon as the family patriarch or matriarch appoints an heir. Technically the financing of the political aspirant’s election should be the job of the party he represents, but the truth is that if Mummy or Daddy is a powerful personage, then the heir finds it easy to collect directly from business houses. Vast sums get accumulated which pay for more than just the campaign, so the new ‘leader’ gets his first taste of easy money. If he notices that he is losing, then he invests it wisely in advance of the result, so in any case he is better off when the campaign ends. If he wins, his family name makes it easier to become a minister and then mysteriously, or perhaps not that mysteriously, he becomes richer and richer.

In our more backward states, political life has additional perks such as being able to walk into a jewellery store and pick up what you want for your daughter or wife. Only foolhardy shopkeepers refuse to oblige and they end up paying a heavy price. As the years in ‘public service’ go by, our political heir goes from strength to strength and his family prospers with him. In almost every political family these days you will find one member who turns out to be an extraordinarily skillful businessman.

Since the Prime Minister sees black money as one of our biggest problems, we must hope that in pursuance of his search for it, he will start inquiring into the finances of our political dynasties. But can he do this when his own party is breeding its own little dynasties? In UP, the son of the Home Minister is a candidate, as is the grandson of former chief minister Kalyan Singh. He already has a son in Parliament. In the constituency of Kairana when the daughter of the MP was asked why she felt she should be given a ticket, she said, “Why not, if I have a desire to serve the people like my father has?” Is she the only person in Kairana with this desire?

In the 2014 general election, Narendra Modi made his disapproval of hereditary politics absolutely clear, but despite this had to accommodate several heirs whose only qualification was dynasty. If he wants to win his war against black money, he should inquire why his comrades are so keen to push their usually unemployable heirs into public life. The excuse for heirs being given tickets often is ‘winnability’, but it is a lame one. When a powerful political leader wants a candidate to win, he does. It cannot be an excuse for starting a political dynasty.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh

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    Hemant Kumar
    Jan 29, 2017 at 5:05 am
    She herself makes foreign trip to Davos in business cl and pontificates / sermonizes Yadavs on using expensive SUVs. Instead of exposing big corruption involving Yadav Singh of lt;br/gt;Greater Noida authority and his links, she wastes time on frivolities.
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      Anil
      Jan 29, 2017 at 7:23 am
      Thank you Talveen. There are not many journalists who clearly point out that is so obvious. I am always look forward to read your column. God bless.
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        Swadhyay
        Jan 29, 2017 at 11:01 pm
        Home ministers son has not done any social services and first do public service and become selfless public servant and then people will vote for you on the basis of your devotion to the service of the ordinary people. Live simple life, all these politicians are enjoying perks at tax payers money. Don't go for power and money, your name will be remember for selfless service, money won't go with you. Remember the sacrifices of people who fought for freedom.
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          Gurinder
          Jan 30, 2017 at 12:50 am
          What about journalists and media houses ,of which u are part?
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            Piyush
            Jan 29, 2017 at 3:55 am
            Well done Tavleen...this is no democracy ..only feudalism, kleptocracy, plutocracy
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              SubbuI
              Jan 29, 2017 at 6:45 am
              THIS DEVELISH LOOKING WOMEN PEN INK TURNED TO RED WHEN SHE WRITES ON ANY ONE AGAINST OR FIGHTING TO DEFEAT DIVISIVE. ARROGANT( like the writter)AND DICTATOR MODI.WHY YOU GIVE 95% OF YOUR PAGE TO ANTI MODI DYNASTY AND FEW MENTIONS OF BJP DYNASTY.IS NOT RULE IS SAME FOR ALL. SO ATHIEIF IS BETTER THAN A ROBBER OR ADRUNKARD IS BETTER THAN THAN DRUGGY.ENOUGH OF THIS 5TH COLOUM.LET SOME ONE ELSE WRITE 6TH ONE
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                Kumar
                Jan 29, 2017 at 1:06 am
                Very good article Tavleen Singh-- hey Truth vs Hype cover this,
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                  K SHESHU
                  Jan 29, 2017 at 2:15 pm
                  Black money and ballot boxes are made for each other
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                    Abhijit Ray
                    Jan 29, 2017 at 2:38 am
                    Except in left parties and to a very great extent in BJP and JDU, family members of politicians are given ticket. At the present time, team of Rahul hi is made of leaders whose father is/was close to Mr Rajiv hi. In UP, Yadav family has claimed the w state to be their fiefdom. It is true, a politician's kin has to contest election. We can also not stop a politician's son from contesting. But these people get easy seat and get access to funds and campaigning. It is also true parties look at win ability of a candidate. But who can protest if all powerful son, whose track record is not very great, is allocated a seat in family stronghold? So much so many career politicians from not so royal lineage have left political parties because they did not see any future of moving up the hierarchy. That does not mean all political sons / daughters are duds. I have great respect for Mr Sachin Pilot. An extremely articulate, sober person and a man of great dignity and restarting. So is Mr Jyotiraditya Scindia. But thes people have to content with being lit by reflected light.
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                      Ajay G
                      Jan 28, 2017 at 7:08 pm
                      Very well said. This dynasty politics and feudalism has done enough damage to our democracy.
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                        AKS Seth
                        Jan 29, 2017 at 3:07 am
                        diatribe. Please write on more substantial issues. Your articles are fast turning out to be waste of time and focus,
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                          Ankit Jain
                          Jan 29, 2017 at 1:43 am
                          Very well said..
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                            anonymous
                            Jan 29, 2017 at 8:58 am
                            What about the Badals in Punjab? Are they not a symbol of dynastic politics?
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                              Arun Sharma
                              Jan 29, 2017 at 5:58 am
                              If son or daughter first serve party as normal candidate and then rise up as other leaders, then it may be ok to give ticket to them. But like other profession politics is a profession. Let us accept it
                              Reply
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                                A Deshmukh
                                Jan 29, 2017 at 5:15 am
                                "If he wants to win his war against black money, he should inquire why his comrades are so keen to push their usually unemployable heirs into public life." Madam do you still think our dear PM is at wars with BLACK MONEY (which heeeeee so extensively uses for hiiiiiiis election campaigns) then you are living in a phools paradise
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                                  Piara Singh
                                  Jan 29, 2017 at 2:17 pm
                                  hi
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                                    Bhogendra Thakur
                                    Jan 29, 2017 at 7:37 am
                                    Objectivity is lost when become bhakt of Modi!
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                                      bala Raja
                                      Jan 29, 2017 at 3:25 am
                                      Black money in politics is not a substantial issue?
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                                        Harminder
                                        Jan 29, 2017 at 7:35 am
                                        "Real Maharaja". Do they still exist in Indian Republic?
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                                          Indian First
                                          Jan 29, 2017 at 8:09 am
                                          You did not mention dynasties of Telangana and Andhra.
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                                            kamal khandelwal
                                            Jan 29, 2017 at 3:51 am
                                            In spite of constantly lambasting the feudal and political families , Tavleen Singh would dare not utter any word against her close friend Vasundhara Scindia. Journalistic Hypocrisy !!
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