Bar relations in politics : The Tribune India

Bar relations in politics

THE nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Yadav clan in Uttar Pradesh because it has taken political inheritance to such absurd levels that it shames us all.

Bar relations in politics

All in family: Indian politics is now all about sons and uncles.



S Nihal Singh

THE nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Yadav clan in Uttar Pradesh because it has taken political inheritance to such absurd levels that it shames us all. As the twists and turns of the father and son and a variety of uncles supported by other family members is played out before a dumb-founded audience, the family drama has begun to pall.

The question that India is asking is that the prevalence of democracy we are so proud of has been reduced to getting the Yadav clan into government. In the present case, the leader is ageing and under the spell of his younger brother Shivpal and the target is the leader’s son, Chief Minister Akhilesh, who is denied his choice of candidates for Assembly elections and is not even assured of a chief minister’s berth in case the Samajwadi Party wins.

PM Modi shines by contrast because he has foresworn relations, except for his aged mother. But since the country’s leaders cannot follow his prescription, it is time to reorder relations between family and the state. The Nehru family set the standards decades ago. It was Indira Gandhi after her father, with a brief interregnum, and after her assassination, it was her son Rajiv. After Rajiv’s assassination, it was his mother Sonia who reluctantly wore the mantle. Now it is her son Rahul waiting in the wings, to what purpose remains to be seen.

The Yadav clan’s contribution to political hereditary norm is that it has taken the process a whole lot further. From the skeletons falling out of the family cupboard, one can guess Mulayam Singh, Netaji to one and all, was getting browned off with the kind of gathering and support his son was able to command in the party with enthusiastic followers rooting for him.

Was it jealousy more than anything else that compelled Mulayam Singh to listen to his brother Shivpal to clip the son’s wings by leaving out the young man’s supporters with the stipulation that the post of Chief Minister was open in case of the party winning the election? The young leader took the challenge, announced his own list and at a convention had himself crowned the party president, with the mentor’s role for the father.

The problem for family quarrels merging into affairs of state is simple. It demeans the democratic system and encourages power brokers to hover around families to try to win favours, apart from its harmful effect on the whole system. Has Indian democracy been reduced to whose son and uncle one is?

It is a long journey on a lonely road, but it is imperative that a movement that strikes at the root of family politics is launched. In the end, family quarrels become affairs of state and the democratic concept becomes a mockery.

Kinship is an important aspect of Indian social life and values but its many advantages must be set aside when one turns to running the country. India is not quite like Latin American countries of yore where political families ruled to plunder their nations’ treasure. But even Latin America has changed and a new wave of questioning is in the air.

Only a broad-based movement can build the momentum for a constitutional amendment barring immediate relations from entering politics. Resentment has been building on family entering politics and the Yadav clan’s comic opera provides the starting point of a new crusade against family rule. Have we reduced ourselves to  fathers and sons fighting over the crumbs of office, egged on by a variety of uncles and aunts?

The political class will, of course, fight vigorously to retain its right to nominate sons and other relatives to high political posts. But if a popular movement builds enough steam, it will compel the political class to carry a constitutional amendment. One of the advantages of a democratic system, for all its faults, is that there is room for a citizens’ initiative to build a mass movement that can force the authorities to act. One has to think of the Anna Hazare movement and the support it gathered although in the end the pickings were slender.

 One has to think of Western democracies and how they have prospered, without sons and relations hanging on leaders’ coattails. True, in the US the Bushes and the Clintons built their own dynasties although Hillary lost out in perpetuating it. But the European motto is to keep out family from affairs of state.

India acquired its system of parliamentary democracy largely from Britain — the first past the post system, rather than efforts at proportional representation to make legislative bodies more representative. We can continue to adhere to this code while barring immediate relatives from their kins’ political positions. If the son succeeding father has an Indian allure typical of closely knit families, we must disregard it in the interest of running a corruption-free administration.

The short point is that one does not have to practise Mr Modi’s style of family life to keep family away from affairs of state. European leaders live normal lives without families meddling in affairs of state. Perhaps it is our feudal legacy that considers a political post won as a privilege one can pass on to one’s progeny.

Generations change and it is the law of life that the young take over the running of the country. There is enough talent for the young to learn the ropes without the guiding hand of parents or other relatives. Let there be a fair contest of the willing and capable assuming the role of elders. That is what it amounts to in a democracy.

In some ways, India has reverted to caste and class stratifications to win votes. It reflects the larger picture of the country reconciling itself to the demands of democracy with the facts of life, still ruled for the better part by caste and religion, accentuated by the rule of the BJP at the national level.

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