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How Dynasties Perpetuate A Semi Feudal India

Dynasties in politics are inherently regressive. The 'inheritor' has huge advantages over a new entrant in terms of money, influence and patronage networks that are crucial for winning elections

Photo Credit :

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In the last few weeks, those following mainstream media as well as the more vibrant and often "irresponsible" social media would not have missed the following things:

1: After Stuart Binny was hammered for 32 runs in a T-20 match in Florida by West Indies batsmen, there were something disgraceful comments on his wife Mayanti Langer who happens to be a cricket commentator. But that apart, it triggered a debate on how a "mediocre" player like Binny could make it to the Indian team just because his father and former cricketer Roger Binny used to be a national selector.

2: There was a lot of tabloid stuff on the shenanigans around the Kapoor family of Bollywood going out to immerse their Ganesh idol from R. K. Studios. Apart from the usual gossip, the "story" highlighted the "star status" of the Kapoor family in Bollywood.

3: On a slightly more serious note, we are witnessing a de facto "civil war" in the extended family of Mulayam Singh Yadav even as Uttar Pradesh gets ready for assembly elections. Though appearing comical at times, the family feud bodes ill for the state as contenders resemble characters in old mythologies and epics.

4: On an even more serious note, there appeared the conclusions of a study which claimed that about 70% of the people populating the higher judiciary in India were related to top judges or lawyers. This sounds ominous and dangerous, particularly when there seems to be a bitter faceoff between the Supreme Court and the central government over the appointment of senior judges.

5: It is touted as the biggest and most expensive start up in the history of the world. The launch of Reliance Jio has already triggered another round of telecom wars. Chairman Mukesh Ambani gave a series of interviews to herald the launch and explain how disruptive the new telecom company promises to be. In most of the interviews, he invoked the pioneering vision of his father the late Dhirubhai Ambani. In one, he proudly explained how his son Akash was hands on at Jio while daughter Isha was off to Stanford for an MBA degree. It was presumed automatically that the children of Mukesh would take over the business someday.

All five are unrelated items. But all four point to one simple fact: the tentacles of feudalism continue to hold India in a vice like grip. On the one hand, Indian society is struggling hard to beat the caste system where the new generation was usually condemned to follow the profession of their parents. Much of the anger in the Dalit community is because India has not been successful in ending this practice. The powerful grip of caste, feudalism and dynasties can be seen by the seemingly egalitarian responses to the ill effects of dynasties in India.

The refrain is: what is wrong for a son or a daughter to follow in the footsteps of their parents profession? If you look at it theoretically, there should be nothing wrong. But the question to ask is: why are children in India so compelled to follow in the footsteps of their parents? In developed democracies, it is actually a rare phenomenon. You will seldom see "inheritors" routinely replacing their parents in politics, cinema, sports or even business as they chase their own dreams and passions. Indian children are no different when it comes to abilities. But this is where the malignant effect of dynasties comes in. Children follow in the parents' footsteps because there are enough economic incentives to do so. It is because the barriers to entry are so formidable in India that children intuitively know their chances of success are far higher than their contemporaries in more developed societies.

In sports and movies, it doesn't matter much. No matter the entry barriers, market forces and performance matter in the long run. So we have had just about a Rohan Gavaskar and a Stuart Binny in cricket. Children of powerful Bollywood families find it easy to get launched. But market forces take over after that. The most powerful and arguably most successful Yash Chopra and his elder son Aditya Chopra couldn't make a success out of Uday Chopra. The perpetuation of dynasties starts taking on ominous terms in business. But even here, market forces will rule over the long term.

Dynasties in politics are inherently regressive. The "inheritor" has huge advantages over a new entrant in terms of money, influence and patronage networks that are crucial for winning elections. To that extent, political dynasties in India have prevented the emergence of new talent. Our Parliament and our state assemblies are awash with mediocre inheritors. But perhaps the most dangerous dynasties are the ones that could be formed in higher judiciary. At least politicians have to go to voters once every five years. Judges ha e no such compulsions.

Till the incentives to these dynasties are not taken away, India will remain a semi feudal half democracy.