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Has Modi’s position on dynasty shifted?

I don’t know if you noticed this, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a longstanding and vocal opponent of dynasty in politics, has shifted his position.

It is a nuanced shift, but it is just enough to get the BJP off the hook.


Speaking to Smita Prakash during his ANI interview, the Prime Minister launched into what sounded like a familiar retread of the many attacks he has launched against political dynasties over the years. “When a party is run for generations by a family,” he said, “there is only dynasty, not dynamics. Starting from J&K, where there are two parties run by two separate families, you can see similar trends in Haryana, Jharkhand, UP and Tamil Nadu. Dynastic politics is the biggest enemy of democracy.”


   Same as before?


   Well, not exactly. This was not a general attack on dynasty. It was, as he made clear in the interview, an attack on family-run parties. It is probably a valid and legitimate position, but it is emphatically not an attack on dynasts in general.


   If you are a dynast and have joined the BJP, well then, there was nothing in the Prime Minister’s interview to worry you. If you are Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jitin Prasada, RPN Singh or any of the other politicians with dynastic backgrounds whom the BJP has stolen away from the Congress, Modi said nothing that affected your position. His objection was to parties run by dynasts and their families. Ordinary dynasts were exempt from his strictures as long as they did not run family parties, and especially if they went on to join the BJP.


   Even when he made this limited point and moved away from any general criticism of dynasts in politics, Modi was already being somewhat economical with the truth. If dynastic parties are so bad, then why did the BJP align with the Akalis and make Harsimrat Kaur, the daughter-in-law of Akali-strongman Parkash Singh Badal, a minister in the Union cabinet? Why did it enter into an alliance with the Shiv Sena, which is led by the son of the party’s founder? In both cases, it was the dynastic allies who walked out of the alliances, not the BJP that urged them to reconsider and stay on.


   In fact, just days before the Prime Minister delivered his little lecture on the evils of family parties, Home Minister Amit Shah had urged the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), led by Jayant Chaudhary, the son of its founder, to join up with the BJP for the Uttar Pradesh elections. It was Chaudhary who turned Amit Shah down.


   So family parties are A Very Bad Thing. Unless they are your allies, of course.


   Why is Modi adopting a more nuanced position on dynasty and why is he ignoring the reality of the BJP’s alliances with family-run parties?


   Well, I am sure Modi is no fan of dynasty himself. But he is a bigger fan of winning elections. At the end of the day, he will do what it takes to keep the BJP in power.


   If it is necessary to welcome Jyotiraditya Scindia into the BJP to hurt the Congress in Madhya Pradesh and topple the state government, then Modi will go ahead. Presumably, he will argue that Scindia does not lead a family party. If it helps the BJP to admit Jitin Prasada and RPN Singh, then Modi will not hesitate. Winning comes way before any objections to dynasty.


"He is the un-Nehru, the alternative to what he suggests were decades of corrupt family rule." 

   So it is with the family-run parties whose very existence he so laments. The BJP was nothing in Punjab without the Akalis. It needed the Shiv Sena to come to power in Maharashtra. When the Akalis left the BJP-led alliance, that was the end of the BJP’s prospects in Punjab. When the Shiv Sena spurned the BJP’s advances after the last assembly election in Maharashtra, that ended the BJP’s hopes of taking power in the state.


   There is another question to be asked here: If the BJP is on shaky ground when it comes to opposing dynasty, then why does Modi keep restating his objections to it, even if he now uses a more limited form of those objections?


   Well, that’s because not being a dynast is one of the surest things Modi has going for himself. Every time he attacks dynasty and family parties, he reminds us yet again that he is a chaiwallah, a man with no inherited advantages who came out of nowhere to lead a newly aspirational India. And that much is certainly true. Unlike many other people in today's politics, Modi is self-made. So, he probably thinks: Why not leverage that achievement into a seemingly principled rant against dynasty in general?


   Plus, as anyone who listens to Modi knows, he still defines himself in terms of the Congress. He is the un-Nehru, the alternative to what he suggests were decades of corrupt family rule. So of course, he has to go on and on about dynasty, no matter how many dynasts the BJP admits and no matter how many alliances it seeks with what he calls ‘family parties’.


   The irony in all this is that Modi got it right the first time. Dynasty is one of the biggest evils in Indian politics. We have seen what it has done to the Congress, but its damaging effects go far beyond any single party. Dynasty does not just turn politics into a family business, but it also makes it a closed shop that keeps out those with merit and ambition.


   In most Western democracies, people from outside the system can enter politics and rise to the top. That’s how Barack Obama, an African-American from a non-political background, was able to become President of the US. That is how people from East Africa, whose families came to the UK relatively recently (Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak, etc.), are able to occupy top posts in a Conservative government. That’s how Sajid Javid, whose family came from Pakistan and whose father was a bus driver, can become one of the UK’s more experienced ministers.


   In India, Modi is the exception, not the rule. In more and more political parties, it is impossible to get to the top unless you are born into the right family. But it gets worse: Even the second and third rungs of leadership in many parties are occupied by people who come from political families. They joined politics not because they believed in any ideology, but because it was a family calling.


   Despite the many contradictions in the BJP’s own approach, Modi is right when he says that the dynamics of any democratic system are altered when family becomes the determining factor in deciding who will get ahead. It is nobody’s case that the first generation of politicians in post-Independence India was perfect or that they always made the right decisions. But it is hard to deny that they were of a far higher moral calibre than today’s politicians. These were men and women who were either moved by the spirit of the freedom struggle or those who started at the bottom of the political pyramid because they believed that they could make a difference and change things for the better.


   There are still people like that in today’s politics, but their number is shrinking. Why would anyone want to join a political party if they knew that no matter how hard they worked and whatever they achieved, their leaders would always be snot-nosed kids who were born into the right families? And that the highest they could rise was to the post of Chief Chamcha?


   That, ultimately, is the irony of Modi’s more and more nuanced position on dynasty. He says the right things in speeches and interviews. But each year, his party moves closer and closer to doing the complete opposite.


   In dynasty, as in so much else, the BJP has come to believe that it is politics as usual that gets you ahead.



Posted On: 17 Feb 2022 01:55 PM
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