Usually, the tweets of Rahul Gandhi—the mostly non-resident leader of the Congress party—do not merit serious attention. However, on 28 December 2021, while tweeting to mark the Foundation Day of India’s GOP, Rahul claimed that Congress is a party “which laid the foundation of our democracy & we are proud of this legacy”. This outrageous claim needs to be contested. This is not only too far from the facts but also smacks of arrogance. What he claims also amounts to an insult to our people and India’s great civilisational ethos.
This is because thousands of years before the emergence of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, India came to be known almost as the global capital of spiritual democracy. The philosophy of Ekam Sat Viprah Bahuda Vadanti (the truth is one and wise men describe the same differently) has been the cornerstone of the Indian world view. Obviously then, outsiders entering India not only enjoyed complete freedom to practise their religion but were also allowed to propagate their way of worship and even convert people to their fold. While claiming that his party laid the platform for democracy in India, Rahul has ignored the basic foundational thought behind our pluralist traditions. He has to understand that although democracy of the modern parliamentary form in India might have come here via colonial rule, its spirit has been the lifeblood of this great country. Such traditions in India have started with spiritual democracy and on that foundation, we have achieved remarkable success in making political democracy of the Westminster type a success. Our onward march now is towards making social and economic democracies a reality.
Little wonder, always criss-crossing the world for some global agenda, Rahul is seemingly ignorant of all this and hence he has made a false claim about democracy. However, his other claim that he is ‘proud of the legacy’ can be considered honest since except legacy, he has precious little to talk about. In fact, the very foundation of Rahul’s politics is legacy and legacy only, albeit it is confined only to his being Congress leader. But then, one need not single him out as from Uddhav Thackeray to Akhilesh Yadav and M K Stalin to Naveen Patnaik, there is a long list of politicians who are running their respective parties as principalities. A closer look at the methodology that saw these heir-apparent politicians at the helm of their parties tells us volumes about their commitment to democratic principles in general and social equality and egalitarianism in particular.
Unfortunately in our country, most political pundits, analysts and even researchers on democracy have remained silent on the ill-effects of dynastic politics on our polity. Dynastic politics is not just anti-democracy but also works only by sacrificing principles of equality and social justice. A dynast occupies the position automatically simply because he or she belongs to the ruling family of their party. Naturally, this becomes a classic case of denial of social justice, and discrimination on the basis of birth. This amounts to a kind of not just back-door entry of casteism but also recognition of birth-based discrimination. As is obvious, others in the Samajwadi Party cannot think of someone else from beyond Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family or the RJD beyond Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family at the helm of affairs. The same is true of the DMK and the Karunanidhi family, Shiv Sena and the Thackeray family, NCP and the Pawar family, SAD and the Badal family, National Conference and the Abdullah family, TMC and the Mamata family or BJD and the Patnaik family, and so on. In most of these parties, neither policies and principles matter, nor programmes and projects. What matters is the family and its current as well as the next generation. In all these parties, an unspoken quota system prevails. Just because an individual is born in a particular family, he or she gets a position, without merit, without abilities and at times even without any will to occupy that position. This is how these parties negate social justice.
In India today, of the over 2,700 political parties, only 50 matter most as they have some representation in either Assemblies or Parliament. Of these 50, except a handful like the BJP and Communist parties, all others are dynasty-driven and this is scary, to say the least.
In the context of hereditary politics, what columnist, author and political commentator Patrick French had said in 2014 is revealing. He had written,
“In other democracies, the children of a president or a prime minister often seek to join the political rat race, but the parties themselves are not controlled by such families. In India, Pakistan, and indeed in the Philippines, this is what happens. Benigno Aquino III, who became president in 2010, is the fourth successive generation of his family to hold paramount political power. In succession to his grandfather and his mother, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari became co-chairman of the PPP after his mother’s assassination in 2007.”
If what is happening in Pakistan or Philippines is not to be replicated in India, one must guard our democracy against the perils of dynasty-driven political parties occupying power. Such parties cannot be trusted as guarantors of democracy as they are demonstrably bereft of any commitment to principles of justice, equality, plurality and even rule of law. Most dynastic parties face a split (as we witnessed in the SP, Shiv Sena and even SAD) and hence there is no certainty of political stability as well.
Congress leaders must understand that their party laid the foundation, not of democracy in India but of dynastic politics of the worst kind—and thereby the process of perversion of democracy.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP