On 24th January 1966, Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister of India. She succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri, who died a sudden (and to many, mysterious) death in Tashkent, hours after signing a peace accord with Pakistan to end the 1965 India-Pak war.
Indira was not new to politics. She became the President of Congress Party in 1959. It was a very prestigious post (till then), and her ascendance to the post was primarily due to her familial connection; she was her father’s unofficial secretary.
Feudal attitude or nepotism or hereditary entitlement has always been a blatantly integral part of the social, cultural, political and industrial fabric of India. But till then, political ruling class was relatively free of this malice; the class of ‘political rulers’ was just a couple of decades old.
Looking back after fifty years, it marks a watershed in India’s politics for a variety of reasons. It explains her innate sense of insecurity, which resulted in Emergency. It lays the foundation for the rise of her son, Sanjay Gandhi, which was cut short by his accidental death. It leads to the ascendance of her other son, Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded her as Prime Minister.
But it marks a watershed for another reason. It provided an established role model for other political parties, mostly regional parties. Only the communists and BJP can be said to be a reasonable exception. BJP is still in the learning mode – currently only two (Phadnavis of Maharashtra and Scindia of Rajasthan) out of its eight Chief Ministers have hereditary connections. And communists have their own Brinda Karat, who became a Rajya Sabha MP on the very day (11 April 2005) her husband became the Party General Secretary.
But for all other political parties, the picture is beyond scary. Because the malice is spreading and affecting the supply of young blood to politics.
Let us look at the Lok Sabha. This report indicates that all the MPs who are below the age of 30 have hereditary connections. Of the MPs below 40 years, 65% have hereditary connections. For age group 41 – 50, the percentage is 37%. The percentage decreases steadily till it reaches zero for age above 81 years.
Let us look at it from another angle and leave aside the numbers. Is there any major political party that doesn’t have familial connections as the ‘necessary and sufficient’ condition to get in? BSP ( Bahujan Samaj Party) and ADAM (Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) seem to be the only two names that would be obvious.
The malice is scary because contrary to popular belief, it has grown with the growth in technology, increase in the standard of living and overall ‘globalization’ of all paths of life. Politics has become a field where no eligibility criteria is needed whatsoever. This is very apparent in case of politicians who die naturally/accidentally. Take the case of R R Patil, a first generation politician from Maharashtra, who really worked his way up from the lowermost rung. He died of cancer in 2015. His widow Suman Patil, till then completely away from politics, won by a huge margin. Let us move to Uttar Pradesh; when Charan Singh was nearing the end, he hastily installed his son Ajit Singh, a computer scientist by profession, as his successor. Continuing the tradition, Ajit Singh has further installed his son Jayant Chaudhary. In Odisha, Naveen Patnaik joined politics after the death of his father Biju Patnaik. After ruling the state for the last fifteen years, he still doesn’t know Odia language.
If one keeps digging, one can unearth many such squirming worms from the level of the local corporator to the highest level. Even in ‘apolitical’ RSS, the spokesperson M G Vaidya was replaced by his son Manmohan Vaidya.
On the golden jubilee of Indira Gandhi’s ascendance, let us reflect on this. Hereditary politics is like diabetes; it doesn’t kill by itself, but it aggravates every other known and unknown ailment. And the similarity doesn’t end there; there doesn’t seem to be any cure for hereditary politics as well, at least not in India.