Of Dynasties and Cabals - Long Live Democracy!
In recent days Narendra Modi has been lamenting the rise of dynastic political parties. He is right. They are a danger to democracy because they stifle inner party democracy and destroy elected party hierarchies. But then so do cabal controlled parties. When did the BJP last elect its leadership?
Mani Shankar Aiyar once chose to justify Congress succession by relating it with Mughal succession. It was self-pejorative. For the record Aurangazeb had to wage wars on his siblings and even the Imperial Army to become Emperor. He was a proven general much before he became a claimant to the throne. To be like Aurangazeb also means to be accomplished and with a successful track record. Rahul Gandhi is no Aurangazeb.
Aurangazeb was an intolerant zealot and bigot. He was also a ruthless killer who was perpetually campaigning. He reduced Golconda by bribing the commander of the gate, like we saw recently in states like Goa, Manipur and even Gujarat. He built an empire that was only second in size to emperor Ashoka's. But when he died, he left an empire that just crumbled.There are comparisons today.
But there can be little disputing that the Congress is a dynastic party. Its High Command must meet every morning across the family dining table at 10 Janpath. The rest of the grand edifice of dozens of PCC's, AICC, Working Committee is mostly a façade. Even after Mallikarjun Kharge won an election as the Congress president, it was still Sonia Gandhi summoning a meeting to decide on Kharge's successor as leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha.
For a man like Rahul Gandhi, who had a liberal western education at Cambridge, like Mani Shankar Aiyar, the idea of a dynasty in a western style democracy must be jarring. Recently an embarrassed Rahul Gandhi tried to answer that by rather lamely suggesting that it was the prevalent way of doing things in India. He cited Abhishek Bachchan for instance. Young Bachchan was a bad example. His meagre acting skills and stage charisma made him a sports impresario. This choice apparently is not available to Rahul and he labours on.
Sometimes someone in the concert like Shashi Tharoor strikes a discordant note. He challenged Kharge and lost handily. How he is treated now is a test of democratic culture in the Congress. Like Jawaharlal Nehru nursed democracy in parliament and public life as a whole in the early years, it is now up to Rahul Gandhi to nurture inner party democracy by deferring to Kharge as the leader and letting him run the party. But the inner court still doesn't know how to do that. Even little fellows like Jairam Ramesh tried to admonish Kharge for comparing Modi to a hydra headed Ravana.
Except for the CPM and the BJP, every political party in India has a dynastic line of succession or more aptly inheritance. Some have more than one. The DMK of Karunanidhi had three, each from a different wife. Primogeniture doesn't apply here. Stalin who is the second wife's son, is younger than rival claimant Alagiri who is also by the wife.
The MP, Kanimozhi, who awaits judgment this week for his involvement in the 2G scam, is the third wife's daughter. The original heir apparent MK Muthu preferred drink to the rigours of politics and fell off the pedestal. Just like Bindu Madhav, Bal Thackeray's older son. Mulayam Singh Yadav has two, Akhilesh and the children of the second wife. Inner party democracy in such parties is restricted to the palace intrigues for succession.
Prakash Singh Badal and his son, Sukhbir, control the Akali Dal. That Sukhbir's wife Harsimrat, a former Union Minister, given the present system, is understandable. But making Harsimrat's brother, Bikram Singh Majithia a minister, is more akin to Emperor Mohammed Shah "Rangila '' making his consort, Lal Kuer's brother, a sarangi player, the governor of Multan. This is now endemic.
RJD is the marquee name for the Lalu Prasad Yadav family, just as the Shiv Sena is for the Thackeray family, BJD for the sons of Biju Patnaik and so it goes. Nowhere is it as blatant as the TRS of K Chandrashekar Rao and TDP of N Chandrababu Naidu. This evolution has completely de-ideologized politics and has made them all about palace intrigues, nevertheless full drama and often entertaining theatre.
The only parties outside this system, ironically enough, are the BJP and CPM. The BJP, however, is now merely a front for the RSS, which is committed to the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra and the renaissance of the post Vedic Brahmanical system, which is a far cry from liberal and modern democracy that Vajpayee and Advani tried to mould by putting the RSS in its place - to booth management. Make no mistake, the dressed up fop who is the PM now is the RSSs choice and truly representative of its mindset. The CPM is committed to establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat. We saw how the "people'' seized power in Russia after ousting Kerensky. To them elections are just steps to full and total political power, and the gulag for the rest. In China the party killed millions to usher in the proletariat heaven.
We have seen the transition of democratic styles in many of the worlds established democracies. The US saw power passing from a self-nominating convention nomination process to a primary based system that binds the convention to the choice of individual party members. We saw this at work when Britain's Conservative Party choose its leadership after Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. This kind of a transition did not happen in India. On the other hand we migrated from a system where parties consisted of equals sharing a common purpose and sometimes goals to one where power passed into the hands of a self-perpetuating political aristocracy.
This system is in fact akin to the democracy of the Kouroukan Fouga of the great Mali Empire where clans (lineages) were represented in a great assembly called the Gbara. We had a similar system in the form of the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan. Even the Lichavi democracy in the post Magadhan period was akin to this.
Clan democracies are implicit with concentration of power with a very few and the manifestation of dictatorial tendencies. The bottom up system thus transforms itself into a top down system. Power then flows from a position of power. There is another consequence to this. When we have a clan, democracy issues pale and the capture of power becomes the sole driving force. Since issues have to be dealt with we quickly get an ideological consensus, as we see in India now. The clans are quite satisfied with a system that gives them a share of the power and the pelf that goes with it.
This has happened in India and unfortunately the social scientists have not seen it as a failure of democracy. That's why what Che Guevara said in 1961 in Uruguay said: "Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landlords and professional politicians."
Mohan Guruswamy is a well known economist and a political scientist. The views expressed here are his own.