The death of Sushant Singh Rajput has brought forth debates and discussions over the widespread prevalence of nepotism across all spheres of life in India
The talented Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide has re-ignited the debate on nepotism that compromises on merits and promotes mediocrity, with rare exceptions. Although it appears innocuous, this omnipresent malady is deleteriously dangerous for democracy, since it operates conjointly with caste, corruption and religion in politics.
In Sushant's matter, online tirades are being made and calls for a CBI probe are continuing alleging that the nepotistic ways in Bollywood led to his suicide. While it is talked about that in this 'mean-girls/boys club on steroids' merit has a tenuous role to play, actors like Kangana Ranaut are open about the camps that make no room for outsiders over second-generation actors who have delivered mostly flop movies because of their bad acting skills. Los Angeles-based director Namrata Singh Gujral puts it succinctly, "Bollywood is a hostile clique where popular girls and boys get together and alienate the 'others'... It has this incredible ability to demoralise you and make you doubt yourself and your self-worth." Arjan Bajwa adds, 'Even getting nominated for an industry award is reserved for insiders.' Even in the cinema industries of other languages, new talents are apparently victims of nepotism.
Nepotism, which is favouritism granted to close relatives, is not a new phenomenon. For ages, several philosophers like Aristotle and Confucius have been critical of it. Our ancient philosopher Valluvar condemned it as both evil and unwise. However, the term, based on Latin root 'nepos' meaning nephew, has its origin in middle ages, when several Catholic Popes and Bishops allotted important assignments to their nephews to continue their 'papal dynasties'. 'Favouritism', as a broader term to include nepotism, cronyism, etc., refers to partiality shown to someone belonging to the favoured group rather than job performance. There is no ladder to climb when the top rung is reserved for people with a certain name. This preference over other similarly situated people results in decreased morale and commitment from non-related employees and a generally negative attitude towards such superiors.
Unfortunately, in every field — business, industry, religious circles, arts, entertainment, sports, judiciary and legal professions, politics, and other types of organisations, Sushant-like new talents are being suppressed when they are 'outsiders'. Cricket is affected, although to a lesser extent, as the fiasco with the BCCI Secretary shows. Business families are closely knit; the Bajaj family is related to the Birla which itself is related to the Biryani family by marriage. Importantly, caste, corruption, and religion go hand in hand with nepotism in politics and government. Political parties systematically favour dynastic candidates in their nomination process, not because they are better qualified than others, even if they are undeserving.
These political dynasties have been flourishing in independent India at the cost of new talent. Patrick French, a famous historian, found that in the 15th Lok Sabha every single MP below the age of 30 was from a political family. Similar were 65 per cent of those in the 31 – 40 age group, 37 per cent of 41 – 50 age group, etc., thus showing that new talent has no entry. He predicted that if this trend continues, 'Lok Sabha' would become a 'Family Sabha'.
Congress not only produced three dynastic PMs and is trying to prop up one more, but has also served as the fertile bed for sprouting several dynastic legislators and new political dynasties. And now, its control is a family affair, like most of the regional parties in which politics is family business. We have the Samajwadi Party clan in UP, Badals in Punjab, Lalu clan in Bihar, Pawars and Thackereys in Maharashtra, Abdullahs, Muftis, etc., in Kashmir, Gowdas in Karnataka, Naidus and Reddys in Andhra, Raos in Telangana, DMK family in TN, etc. Thus, most political parties are dynastic, although some are more dynastic than others in this family-rise political culture.
Interestingly, while the ruling party has spoken out against such practice, it must be noted that twenty-four per cent of the current Cabinet is dynastic in nature and representation from political families in BJP has grown from 14.89 per cent in 2014 to 25 per cent in 2019. For Congress, it grew from 28 per cent to 48 per cent.
Nepotism in politics being a fait accompli, politicians and political parties treat it as a privileged right, When Deve Gowda was the PM, he countered a question by asking, "What is wrong? When it happens among doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc., why not among politicians?" However, in the present-day context, these words raise two relevant issues, first being the political system.
While the country is choking in authoritarianism, there is no credible national alternative. Congress, the only national party that can fill this space, is simply dynastic, without any semblance of internal democracy.
The other issue that arises from the assertion of Deve Gowda is the impact of political favouritism and promotion of mediocrity on governance in a democracy. As such planting of favourites in government departments and institutions is long known. But, in the present regime, entire institutions are devoured, defanged and debilitated by filling them with 'yes men' who would readily bend rules to favour the political bosses.
The macabre killing of 8 policemen in UP is only a result of the political patronage to the wanted criminal who killed a minister in 2001 and is involved in over 60 serious criminal cases and had moles inside the local police. In such cases, professional law enforcement takes a beating and some innocent policemen fall as victims.
In contrast, the Tuticorin incident highlights police brutality. An innocent father-son duo was not only thrashed and tortured but was also sodomised, all for their simple fault of keeping their shop open beyond the prescribed hours of lockdown; both died.
There is no one to tell them that police is a 'service' in democracy. No political party wants police reforms recommended by commissions and ordered by the SC, since they want to perpetuate the status quo through nepotism, caste, corruption, and religion, to meet their political needs. On the other hand, they even bring about innovations in administration to formalise it, like in Telangana.
In Telangana, most of the important posts of district collectors, SPs, etc. are being filled with sub-divisional officers who are not even inducted into the All India Cadre of IAS and IPS, by sidelining the regular cadre officers. Obviously, they would be too obliged to bend rules to help the political executive, even in matters of corruption. But, in the process, the very purpose of All India Services created by Sardar Patel gets defeated.
The test of democracy is the level of autonomy of its institutions. But nepotism, caste and corruption along with religion contribute adversely in this regard. It is time for people to work for bringing in the culture of meritocracy in place of mediocracy to save our democracy.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal