Millennium Post

Princes from Modi’s stable

About a fortnight back in these very columns we discussed the reasons for political dialogue turning curt in the ongoing campaign for the upcoming assembly polls in the four states of Hindi heartland.

The context was Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi taking umbrage to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi repeatedly addressing Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as shehzade (prince) at the public rallies.

Dwivedi and other Congress leaders should have shown some patience with the caustic remarks made by Modi on dynastic leadership in Indian politics. Despite his powerful criticism of the trend, Gujarat chief minister himself has not been able to keep his party away from this taint. The list of candidates announced by the BJP for the Delhi assembly polls showcases its own set of shehzades (princes). In a clear deviation from the policy of keeping dynasties away from leadership, which Modi wants to so strongly push, BJP has fielded sons of veteran leaders like Vijay Kumar Malhotra, O P Babbar and late former chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, with none having any political credential than their father’s name. Modi at the Patna rally of the party last month, referring to the objections raised by the Congress leaders, had promised to do away with dynastic politics. ‘Congress leaders are troubled with Rahul being referred to as shehzade. They are unable to sleep well. They want to know why I was compelled to refer him as shehzade? I will stop calling him shehzade if the Congress promises to do way with dynastic politics,’ Modi had said. While the Congress did not offer any promise, Modi’s party must have left him red faced. This raises the important question if dynastic politics is in any way a matter of any concern to invite the attention of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. I recall hearing BJP MP from Amritsar Navjot Singh Sidhu on TV soon after he cast vote during the 2012 assembly polls in Punjab. Addressing media he claimed that in democracy the fortunes of a politician is not decided by the family in which he or she is born, but by votes which come out of the ballot box in his or her favour.

On the face of it, Sidhu’s attack on parivarwaad (loosely and inappropriately translated as nepotism) sounded adequate and politically correct. However, as Sidhu blurted out, he did not realise that he had Navjot Kaur, the local BJP candidate standing beside him. Navjot Kaur would have never found her name on the party’s list of candidates if her husband Navjot Singh Sidhu did not represent the
Amritsar seat in Parliament.

The remaining two partners of the BJP in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) too are led by shehzades in their own right. In Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal is in the process of inheriting the mantle from his father, the redoubtable Parkash Singh Badal, the state chief minister. The process of inheritance albeit is taking rather long with some wondering whether it would end in a Mughal tale of son usurping father’s throne.

In modern Indian politics we saw this tale being played out a few years back in Andhra Pradesh where son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu pulled the rug from under the feet of Telugu Desam Party founder N T Rama Rao. A full-pitch inheritance battle is being fought between sons of DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi.

The other alliance partner of NDA – the Shiv Sena – has already witnessed handing over of the power to the next generation. Sena founder Balasaheb Thackeray passed the baton to his son Uddhav in his lifetime and it has been accepted by the party cadres. In fact, Uddhav has already started to groom his son Aditya for holding the position after him.

Same is the story in almost all the political parties, be it Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party becoming chief minister in Uttar Pradesh courtesy his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, Jayant Chowdhary coming to lead the Rashtriya Lok Dal, founded by his grandfather Chowdhary Charan Singh and now headed by his father Chowdhary Ajit Singh or Naveen Patnaik heading the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha. Does that mean end of road for commoners in politics. That’s not true. There has always been enough space in all the political outfits for a political worker. While it’s true that a worker has to struggle to move upwards, it’s also equally true that the scions of the political families have to wage a daily battle to retain their influence.

There are ample examples of the children of towering political leaders losing out to political workers in the matters of succession. The Shukla family of Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh has gone into complete decline. In the Capital, there is the example of Union Minister H K L Bhagat’s son, who could never establish himself politically and has more or less quit politics. In Uttar Pradesh, the once powerful family of Kamalapati Tripathi stands completely withered. In fact, it’s a party worker like Rajesh Mishra who now wields in party flag in the Tripathi family fiefdom of Varanasi.

Modi must realise that in the nation where prince of Ayodhya holds a position of primacy in social life from time immemorial, a strong family bond will always exist. In the Indian society children of every family are no less than the legendary Princes of Ayodhya – Ram and Lakshman. Opposition to a political leader for merely inheriting family legacy will always be grudged by the Indian masses.
Since there is no escape from it, Modi should not make a virtue out of it.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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