Monday, October 5, 2009

Indian democracy eaten by termites of family rule

Indian democracy eaten by termites of family rule
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The present kind of dynastic politics is nothing new to India, as common men have been used from time immemorial to the rule by kings who would groom their sons and daughters to ascend the throne. What we see today is a return to the times when kings and queens ruled the Indian subcontinent.

The large section of Indian population who are still not well educated, do not understand the basic concept of democracy and they think that such hereditary succession to the throne is nothing unusual or unethical.

The magic of pedigree work in India because an established name in politics is the political equivalent of a commercial brand. From educated to the illiterate, from rich to the poor, everyone appears to fall under the spell of the aggressive marketing of the brand image.

There are hardly any politicians in India whose other family members are not in politics. With parent being the political leader, it is easier access for the family members to get the party’s ticket than a non family member.

In the case of several political parties today, sons, daughters, niece and nephews of top political leaders take over the reign of the party early in life. They are groomed by the older politicians and are launched into the political scene by well orchestrated strategic media campaign, portraying them as “yuvraaj”. Media help in grooming the image of the family members of the politicians in India.

There appears to be a general feeling amongst section of population that someone from a political family has the right connections and resources to get things done. It is obvious that such ideas stem from ignorance.

It is true that political competence does not come about by conventional education alone, but it certainly does not come by mere acquaintance or association as well. A competent political leader’s wife, son or daughter need not be equally competent.

It can be welcomed, if political heirs are capable enough to provide quality leadership to the country but the overall experience shows that under the control of families over political power, the institution of democracy is taking a big beating.

Right from the local self government to the national level, political dynasties are everywhere enjoying the fruits of power and prestige. Once patriarch succeeds in attaining political power, he does not want to lose his bear clasp over it and lets his near and dear ones to come in the line, so that the power would not go outside the family lineage.

The king maker parent will never lose his sense of power by projecting his son or daughter, as the face of the future ensures a lifetime of political clout for himself. The dynasties ensure that the door to the top slot is available to none but to the family members alone.

Instead of an open and transparent political party being accountable to the public at large, the political parties in India are close family structures that breed corruption. They ensure that no outsider of the family and insider in the party dares voice dissent.

The control of political parties by families inevitably lead to several undesirable consequences, such as money power, muscle power and caste factors playing in the electoral process.

The family politics is not only increasing corruption but also making the government biased, towards a particular section, caste and region to which the family belongs, to get more votes.

Family rule provide greater possibility of producing crooks who will loot the country and its people for their own personal gain, as it is evident in many cases now.

Political families have made India a make believe kind of democracy. Citizens who are more talented and have more enthusiasm to work for the public cause but with less family background, find it hard to compete in the elections, let alone make it to the assemblies and parliament.

The menace of political families is comparable to that of termites eating into the roots of the huge tree of democracy depriving of nutrients of fresh political thoughts.

If this present trend of dominance by political families in Indian democracy would continue, we will have the emergence of a political caste-a sort of brahminical caste. Indian democracy will cease to be participatory and it will cease to be a way of empowering people.

The continuance of political dynasties indicates that Indian society has not yet become free of feudal mindset. With the casteist, feudalistic mindset, the Indian public continues to vote for families instead of ideologies. It would not be possible to undo the political dynasties in Indian democracy without changing this mindset.

A cursory look at the family trees of politicians will make it clear that politics is a family business in India. Let us face it, politics in India is a business.

While much fuss is made about money’s influence on politics, another form of privilege, blood or marriage s taken for granted. It is extremely distressing that one billion plus population is being controlled by a few families today.

With the reigns of power largely in the hands of family members who manage to get into power without having the quality of mind or merit, there is a serious doubt regarding the future of Indian democracy.

If the present scenario is allowed to continue, each state will become “a princely state” ruled by the dynasties of political leaders who promote their own kith and kin and the public will become mere spectators.

Elections would be made a mockery by the entry of incompetent or business minded family members. Several of them without the knowledge or vision would not care to represent anyone once they would get elected to assemblies and parliament.

The assumption that a member of political family need not have any record of service to the nation to get into power is an insult to the concept of democracy.

The only way out is that the people should raise their voice. The public awareness is the panacea to treat the nearly sick but apparently healthy institution of Indian democracy.

Media provides hopes. There is strong concept of citizen journalism being built in the country. This is perhaps the purest and deepest form of journalism, which can improve the quality of public thinking towards improving the quality of democracy in this country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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