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Page last updated at 23:55 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 00:55 UK

Dynastic politics takes hold of India

By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC News, Delhi

Rahul Gandhi poster
Rahul Gandhi is tipped by many to be a future Indian PM

As Indians were reeling from the sudden death of YSR Reddy, the popular chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, some of his supporters launched a campaign to install his son as his successor.

The move was seen as both brazen and bizarre by many political analysts already concerned about the rise of dynastic politics in India.

Jagan Mohan Reddy had made his electoral debut only a few weeks ago by successfully contesting parliamentary elections. He had never held any public office. But within hours of his father's death, there was pressure to appoint him the chief minister of a large and prosperous state.

The efforts are still continuing but the Congress leadership looks in no mood to oblige.

Dynastic rule

A senior congress leader and party general secretary told me that the possibility of Jagan Mohan Reddy being made the chief minister was "zero".

Mourners at  YSR Reddy's funeral
Thousands of mourners turned out to pay their respects to Mr Reddy

There are several reasons why the Congress leadership is not keen on obliging Mr Reddy junior.

It does not want to give the impression that anyone can dictate terms to them. That would dilute the authority of the party's central leadership (a euphemism for the Gandhi family) and encourage other powerful state leaders to think in terms of carving out their own fiefdoms.

An elevation of the inexperienced Mr Reddy would be certain to invite much criticism and ridicule.

But the Congress leadership's attitude towards Jagan Mohan Reddy should not be seen as any major rethink in the party on the issue of family and dynastic rule.

The recently released list of candidates for the forthcoming state elections in the western state of Maharashtra is dominated by the sons, daughters and close family members of Congress leaders.

Such is the stranglehold of dynasties that even the son of the president of India has secured a party nomination - kicking off a row in the process.

His challengers include a powerful rebel and incumbent lawmaker who was given the boot by the party's leadership to accommodate the president's son.

Congress is not alone in succumbing to the pull and pressures of kinsmen in politics.

The same holds true for most other political parties.

In regional parties the top rungs of the power structure are almost completely dominated by the extended family of the ruling elite.

Iron hand

So Mr Karunanidhi and his family call the shots in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the governing party in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is also a partner in the governing coalition in Delhi.

Agatha Sangma election flyer
The Sangmas from Meghalaya are one of many political families

Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family run the RJD in Bihar, the Badals run the Akali Dal in Punjab, the Thackeray family runs Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Ajit Singh and his family wield considerable influence in parts of Uttar Pradesh.

An interesting aside is the case of the political parties where the top leader is single. In these instances power is completely centralised in the hands of one individual.

So Mayawati, the low caste leader, runs India's largest state of Uttar Pradesh with an iron hand and Jayalalitha, leader of AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, is known for her autocratic ways.

Even the much hyped youth brigade in the national parliament - dubbed as the future of Indian polity - largely comprises MPs who come from political families.

So this power list includes a Gandhi, Abdullah, Pawar, Scindhia, Pilot, Prasad, Yadav, Sangma, Satpathy, Choudhary, Deora, Dutt... the list of illustrious political families in the national parliament can go on and on!

They may all be bright young men and women but in the constituencies they represent, but they have also usurped the right of ordinary Indians to secure nominations from mainstream political parties to contest elections.

Rahul Gandhi has more than once acknowledged the problem dynastic politics presents.

"I know I am a product of this [dynastic politics] system. But can't I try and change it?"

So far he has not done much to reverse the trend.

Big challenge

Another scion of a political family is Sachin Pilot, a normally very sure-footed and smooth-talking management graduate, second-term MP and a minister in the central government.

Laloo Prasad Yadav
Laloo Prasad Yadav's family dominates the Bihar political landscape

He was quite predictable when I asked him to react to those who blame political dynasties for making the Indian political system more restrictive for average Indians.

"Ultimately people decide. Everyone, from whatever background they come, has to win an election."

Tathagata Satpathy, son of a former chief minister and third-term MP, was a little more candid.

He admitted that coming from powerful political families helps to get a party ticket which is crucial in the context of Indian elections.

"But the voter as well as the party takes to you kindly only the first time. In each subsequent election you are judged on your performance and the more powerful and mighty a family you represent the chances are the voter will judge you that much more harshly and critically at the time of elections."

So where does that leave the Indian political system; supposedly the world's biggest, most alive and representative democracy?

Political scientists see family rule and political dynasties posing a big challenge.

Doomsday soothsayers go a step further and say India practises feudalism in the garb of democracy.

They warn that unless the trend is checked there is a real danger that a few hundred families will completely corner the political market.



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