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Dynastic ‘Democracy’

Indian dynasties in Parliament are an unfortunate result of obsolete caste society

By Gautam S. Kumar

I always listened to what my parents told me to do—until I was about nine. After that age, as most do, I adopted an ability to think critically, independently, and creatively. One would hope that members of national governments would be able to do the same.

Sadly, many members of the Indian government fail to have grown up. Indeed, much of the Parliament today—at the national and state level—is seeing a strong dynastic trend that is corroding the largest democracy in the world and appears to be a sad carryover of the obsolete caste culture.

This generation of monarchial political leaders is currently led by the fourth-generation heir of the Nehru-Gandhi Dynasty, Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi’s family has captained the governing Congress Party for nearly 60 years and has ruled India for the better part of the last century. Each generation’s successor has held the highest governing position of prime minister. Many other political children, however, are the only two or three generations into the job.

But this passage of democratically elected positions is absurd. The Indian government is stripping itself of any level of creativity by choosing to elect its leaders from such a small pool. Moreover, these elections only serve as a structural maintenance of the former caste system that used to determine professions in the country. As a result of this approbation on caste society in India, there is a sense of entitlement among Indian politicians who appear to treat politics simply as an occupation, taking kickbacks and enjoying corrupt under-the-table money.

Most destructively, this nepotistic entitlement has promoted “self-interest above public interest,” as one Times of India editorial determined. Rahul Gandhi himself even recognized that “the Gandhi name gives one an unfair advantage,” encouraging others to join politics to take “that edge away.” But in a governmental system where crime and policy are intertwined—14 percent of the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of Parliament, have serious criminal charges against them—where is that capacity to intercept the institution and take that edge away? When those in power control seek to maintain their advantage, it becomes difficult to change the status quo.

All countries have political families. But India’s Parliament has transformed, as Patrick French has written in his book “India: a Portrait,” from a Lok Sabha, a “People’s Parliament,” to a Varsha Sabha, “A Parliament of Royalty.” Although it is the world’s largest democracy in terms of population, India may soon be unable to consider itself a working democracy if this trend does not abate.

Already, we are seeing that the ruling Congress party no longer holds the same level of control that the party once held under Nehru’s reign. The party, which once won elections with 72 percent of the popular vote, has now diminished to a mere 28.55 percent approval rating in the most recent 2009 elections. And while this decrease in popular support is the result of the proliferation of more parties, diluting the party’s national presence, this decline is significant—and represents poor party management.

Most troublingly, however, this decline in voter confidence in the Indian National Congress Party shows a larger concern: the majority of Indians are not necessarily approving of the trajectory of the party. Indian citizens have shown some significant concern in the lack of even policy-speak that Rahul Gandhi has engaged. But the system is self-folding, and even though voters may not believe in the dynastic succession that Rahul Gandhi has enjoyed, the institution allows for few other permutations. The only solution is to have these privileged few understand the privilege they are afforded—and to cast it away. They must step down and away from the family business of politics, to allow outsiders to question the validity of the current political system.

When Mahatama Gandhi (not related to Rahul Gandhi) wrested India’s freedom from British colonization, he also fought for equality across castes. The leadership of the nation has now returned to an earlier template of monarchial government—and citizens should more actively fight to restore the government that the country’s founding fathers imagined.

Gautam S. Kumar ’13, a Crimson news writer, is an applied mathematics concentrator in Cabot House.

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