Somehow what commentators missed while analysing the soap opera from Uttar Pradesh that played out all of last week is the real tragedy of what has happened to our largest and most populous state. In the silly details of who was making up with whom and which Yadav brother was saying what, political pundits missed the most important detail of all, which is that Uttar Pradesh in the past five years has been turned into a fiefdom. In a state the size of France, Mulayam Singh Yadav and his many relatives have taken control of all the levers of political and economic power exactly as used to happen in times of yore when rajas ruled the land. So it does not matter whether Akhilesh Yadav is showing that he has finally grown into his role as chief minister, and it does not matter if his ‘Uncleji’ is asserting his role as senior to him, what matters is that the ugly underbelly of dynastic politics got exposed. For this we must be truly grateful.
As someone who has been almost a lone voice among the tribe of political commentators warning ad nauseam that the worst thing that has happened to India is hereditary democracy, I was delighted to watch the absurd drama play out. May this happen in different ways and soonest in Punjab, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and in every other state in which a cynical chief minister has used his political power to reduce democracy to a farce.
We are truly indebted to Mulayam Singh Yadav for going too far. Not only did he appoint his son chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, he then proceeded to inflict on Parliament a retinue of mediocre relatives, including his beauteous daughter-in-law. Of her at least it can be said that she is easy on the eye, which is more than can be said for the rest of the Yadav family. He then ordered the Chief Minister of the mighty state of Uttar Pradesh to appoint assorted uncles and cousins in his Cabinet and a fiefdom was born.
Now that Nitish Kumar has handed Bihar over to Lalu Prasad and sons, we may some day soon see similar things happen in another desperately poor, hopelessly illiterate state. Of course, it is very worrying that the two states that most need real leaders and proper governance should end up as medieval fiefdoms, but we must rejoice that we could be witnessing the last dying days of hereditary democracy. It does not work. It cannot work. And India will never become a real democracy until it stops electing political heirs.
Whenever I have said this in this column, and I have said it many times, I have been attacked by a committed band of leftists who point out that ‘these people have to get elected’, so who are you to talk. Since this particular genre of political pundit never goes out and actually watches how election campaigns happen in India, they are unaware of how impossible it is to defeat a political heir. Sometimes it is because he is backed by known criminals, sometimes it is because he has the full backing of powerful daddy or mummy, and sometimes it is simply because he has a famous name.
In the 1984 general election Rajiv Gandhi showed how, just by pitting Amitabh Bachchan against Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, it was possible to defeat the most powerful political leader in Uttar Pradesh of that time. This tactic has been repeated by other political parties since then and nearly always it has been possible to get a film star to defeat a politician, because in politics as in cinema, star quality counts for a lot.
Over the years, dynastic democracy has become the norm from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and the Lok Sabha is awash with gormless political heirs and heiresses who would not be able to hold down a proper job in real life. Indian democracy has been weakened steadily since, like all bad habits, it has spread fast. The quality of public life has been diminished down to the village level because people who enter politics nowadays come for power and pelf and not public service.
So although it may seem as if something terrible has happened in Uttar Pradesh, we must truly be obliged to the feuding Yadav family for having shown us what dynastic democracy means in real terms. Maybe they can now trot off to Saifai to celebrate the patriarch’s birthday with music and movie stars for one last time before the elections come around. And when the people of Uttar Pradesh vote, may they keep in mind that these festivities went on even when the state was torn apart by communal violence and terrible drought. Uttar Pradesh deserves better. So does India. May voters learn quickly to choose better and more fearlessly.