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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Political Dynasties knows no boundaries

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I came across a nice article on the Political Dynasties around the world. While in India, we may sulk about how our Politics has been captured by a few dynasties who continue to rule us, this isn't a unique phenomenon in India alone.
  1. George W. Bush got elected as president eight years after his father left the White House. This is the second instance of American history of a father-son presidency. Kennedys remain as the most famous Western political dynasty.
  2. Former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s father was a senator, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's son was a Cabinet official under Clinton and campaign manager for Gore. Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa's son is now filling his father's shoes in the same slot.
  3. Makiko Tanaka inducted as Japan's foreign minister some 25 years after her father was premier.
  4. n North Korea after the death of President Kim Il-Sung, his son Kim Jong-Il became his successor in 1994, thereby creating the communist world's first dynasty.
  5. After the death of Syria's President Hafez al Assad, his son Bashar became his successor.
  6. South Asia has proved the most fertile ground for political dynasties. Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal all have a resilient tradition of electing dynasties to the top office. Take Nepal, for instance. After the recent massacre of the entire royal family, the king's brother took over. Prime Minister G.P. Koirala's two other brothers were prime ministers as well — the only instance of three brothers serving in such high elective office. Sri Lanka started its tradition in 1960 when Prime Minister Solomon Bandranaike's widow, Sirimavo Bandranaike, became prime minister. Now her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, is president. Bangladesh will see the coming electoral contest between two iron-willed women, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of President Mujibur Rahman, and Khaleda Zia, widow of President Ziaur Rahman.
  7. India's Nehru family is probably the world's oldest democratic dynasty, now spanning four generations, producing the only team of grandfather-daughter-grandson prime ministers, ruling for 37 of India's 53 years as an independent state.
  8. In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister during 1971- 1977, and his daughter Benazir was elected for two stints as prime minister during the 1990s, the first woman from a Muslim state to head a government.
  9. In the Philippines too, dynastic politics is quite widespread -- President Gloria Macapagal is daughter of a president, and political dynasties dominate local politics so much that there have been demands for laws against these dynasties.
Even in India, its not just the Congress that has been indulging in dynastic politics. Omar Abdullah is just 38 but he became the Chief Minister even though there are many senior leaders in the party. Similarly, elsewhere Karunanidhi has been grooming his younger son Stalin, the Patnnaiks in Orissa, Shiv Sena, Dev Gowda's JD(S), RJD in Bihar are no different. Even in BJP, son's and daughters of several leaders like Jaswant Singh, Vasundhra Raje Scindhia, Yedurappa and Pramod Mahajan are being promoted. In Congress, besides the Gandhi dynasty there is the Sandeep Dikshit, son of Shiela Dikshit; Ashok Chavan, son of late SB Chavan;Deepender Singh Hooda son of Bhupinder Singh Hooda. The list goes on.

The three reasons for this that were given in the article were:
  1. Money
  2. Political connections
  3. Public recognition and thus easy Acceptability from the public
Access to the political system in most countries is costly in terms of money and only those who can afford the time, money, resources and have the requisite connections find an entry into what is often an exclusive if not closed club. Political lineage buttressed by money helps facilitate that entry.Bush, Gore, Tanaka, Macapagal-Arroyo fit the bill for what can be termed as politicians from Establishment families, with enough credentials due to a famous political surname to ensure a place on the political pedestal.

Then there are those who are respected for rendering services to their country during crucial periods, such as an independence struggle — hence, their legitimacy is unquestioned and widely accepted. The Nehru family in India, Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia, Hafez al Assad in Syria, Kim Il-Sung are some examples from this genre. Finally, there are those whose leadership is etched in the popular imagination, and for people to identify with such a charismatic leader comes almost automatically.

Bhutto, Bandranaike, Peron of Argentina, Ziaur Rahman and Mujibur Rahman in Bangladesh, the Kennedys in the United States all were populists with charisma, which is then sometimes "transferred" to their scions and close relatives.

By and large, these reasons are logical. Moreover, these reasons not only explain why such a large number of political dynasties exist, but also explains why such a large number film stars and sport stars have made it to political offices. They satisfy two of the three conditions - Money and Public recognition.

South India is famous for its film stars turning into politicians and Chiru is the latest one to join that list. In north India, we have Shatrughan Sinha, Vinod Khanna. Rajesh Khanna, Dhamendra, Amitabh Bachan, Govinda, Sidhu, etc. Even in the US, we have Arnold who is now the Governor of California.

But there is a major between India and US. US has a presidential form of Govt. and hence the president is directly elected by the people. Moreover, his term is restricted to two. Also, there is complete inner party democracy in US. In India, the leader is elected by the elected representatives and there is no limit on the number of terms. This ensures the hold of dynasties. And if someone tries to raise the issue of dynasties, he/she is instantly thrown out. For ex: Sharad Pawar was shown the door in Congress. Maran was also recalled as a Union minister by the Karunanidhi.

So unlike popular belief, dynastic politics isn't the real issue. The real issue is lack of inner party democracy. Dynasty and Movie/Sports stars shall continue to play major part in democracy everywhere, whether we like it or not.


  1. As you have rightly brought out, limiting the US President's term to a max eight years and direct elections have ensured that the few "dynastic" types who have risen have done so on popular support and not on the manipulations of a caucus. It is because of these two provisions that there is inner party democracy. In India, on can theoretically keep ruling till he wants, if the number of MPs/MLAs is right. So, he ensures over time that only people who blindly support his son/daughter are given party tickets and otherwise promoted in the party/government. That kills inner party democracy. Dynastic rule is simply not sustainable if there is genuine inner party democracy.

  2. Good collection of facts. Not only, but also: the same applies to all positions of wealth and power. Family owned businesses for example. From Japan and Korea to Europe and US. Also applies to African power struggles. The phenomenon to be studied would be nepotism - dynasties become a subset.

  3. Only in a democracy like India can non-elected people become the PM and the President...Our current PM is not a member of the Lok Sabha and so was not elected by the people...

  4. @Bones
    Yes, our PM is not an elected member, but I think he is much better than a lot of those who have been elected by us. He is not a murder or a corrupt politician. He is a well qualified economist.

    A lot also depends on the way our electorate votes. Manmohan Singh did stand for Lok Sabha from Delhi in 1999, but the great Indian electorate didn't vote for him. We need to share the blame too.