India: Political dynasties reign supreme

Although not the sole preserve of the Subcontinent, political dynasties thwart genuine meritocratic advance.

Rahul Gandhi is being groomed as India's next Prime Minister. When 79-year old incumbent Manmohan Singh finally departs, the Indian National Congress will seek a successor. Where else would they look other than Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi's only son, Rahul. His gifted sister Priyanka Vadra has ruled herself out, by all accounts.

Should either of Sonia's offspring be elevated they would follow in the footsteps of a long line of Gandhi family political heavyweights:

(1) Motilal Nehru, father of Pandit Nehru and Rahul's great-great-grandfather was twice President of the Congress party from 1919 to 1920 and from 1928 to 1929. He founded India's most successful political dynasty
(2) Jawaharlal "Pandit" Nehru, Rahul's great-grandfather was prime minister of India from independence in 1947 until 1964
(3) Indira Gandhi, Panditji's daughter and Rahul's grandmother was PM from 1966 to 1977, and again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984
(4) Rajiv Gandhi, Indira's son and Rahul's father ruled from 1984 until 1989. He himself was assassinated two years' later, in 1991. Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv's Italian-born widow and Rahul's mother, now heads the Congress party as its President. Rajiv's younger brother Sanjay Gandhi had been expected to become prime minister, and was groomed to assume power, but died in a plane crash in 1980. After his death the mantle was passed to a reluctant Rajiv.
(5) Rahul Gandhi, Indian National Congress member of the Lok Sabha for Amethi in Uttar Pradesh; General-Secretary of the Indian National Congress.  

The Nehru-Gandhis have now been in control for 37 of 64 years since independence from Britain. Isn't such nepotism constraining? How can more talented people gain power when the mantle of office is consistently handed to someone for no reason other than their blood line? Clearly, tutelage and the experience gained from being raised in a political household would provide an individual with credentials. But real talent, ambition, strength of character, inventiveness and charisma are typically inherent in someone and cannot be learnt.

The Nehru-Gandhis are not the only political family in India by any stretch. Far from it. There are enduring political dynasties in most states, many other them with multiple generations of engagement. There appear to be historic reasons for this. According to Indian Liberals, the problem stems from a "combination of the caste system and the feudalistic mindset". This might explain why India is not alone amongst South Asian nations for having an over-supply of these political clans. Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have such families with a strong interest in or hold on power.

Even in the tiny Himalayan Dragon kingdom with its developing democracy, Dr. Tshering Cigay Dorji posed last year "will elected political dynasties emerge in Bhutan?" The Thimphu-based telecommunications engineer and blogger wrote "many people from humble backgrounds have risen to high positions in the civil service in the past" but attachment to the "importance of ancestry" means that it's likely Bhutan "will have elected political dynasties in the future".

However, as India is developing into an economic superpower, its billion or so people deserve better than to be run by close-knit families. If India wishes to get the most out of its people it must offer opportunities for advancement based on merit. There may very well be people with blood ties who could rise to prominance, but really do genetics have to be decider in this modern day and age?

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