January 18, 2020
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Borne Supremacy

The Nehru-Gandhis are India's First Family. But across the country, power is family inheritance.

Borne Supremacy
Borne Supremacy

Political Dynasties Of India

The Nehru-Gandhis
They have held the reins of the Congress party ever since the struggle for Independence. It was Indira, though, who started the dynastic tradition first with Sanjay and after his death, with Rajiv. Today, Sonia guards the family preserve while son Rahul gets groomed for his political destiny.

The Abdullahs of Kashmir
A tumultuous political career later, Sheikh Abdullah passed the National Conference baton to son Farooq who in turn gave charge of it to a less than illustrious Omar.

Karunanidhis of Tamil Nadu
DMK founder C.N. Annadurai would have scoffed at dynastic rule. But with Karunanidhi now 84, sons Stalin and Azhagiri call the shots in TN politics. Daughter Kanimozhi too has made her political debut. And before they fell out with their granduncle, the Marans too were a part of the dynasty.

The Thackerays of Maharashtra
Nephew Raj Thackeray was the more charismatic, and some thought far more natural, successor of the Shiv Sena legacy. But Balasaheb chose to give it to son Uddhav. Raj revolted, formed his own Navnirman Sena, and thus was an inheritance split.

Laloo & Family
Till he lost elections in 2005, Laloo treated Bihar and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) as his personal estate. When sent to jail, he did not trust any party leader but dragged wife Rabri out of the kitchen into the CM's office.

The Pawars of Baramati
Union agriculture minister and BCCI chief Sharad Pawar also runs the Nationalist Congress Party. Daughter Supriya is in the Rajya Sabha. Nephew Ajit Pawar is a key figure in Maharashtra politics.

Karnataka, Gowdas' Own Country
Three of H.D. Deve Gowda's four sons control the Janata Dal (Secular). Balakrishna Gowda is the strategist. H.D. Revanna is Deve Gowda's man in the party and H.D. Kumaraswamy, Karnataka's erstwhile chief minister, the one who can also hunt with the hounds.

Mulayam & Co
The one-time socialist has had no qualms perpetuating family rule. Brother Shivpal Yadav is a key figure in the Samajwadi Party while son Akhilesh is a 'young turk' in Parliament.

The NTR/Chandrababu Naidu family
It was Chandrababu Naidu who snatched power from his father-in-law N.T. Rama Rao, founder of the Telugu Desam Party. But now he is wooing his brothers-in-law, N. Balakrishna and N. Harikrishna, and succeeding.

TN's Ramadosses
S. Ramadoss and his health minister son Anbumani control the Pattali Makkal Katchi or PMK, a party that often acts as the moral police of Tamil Nadu.

The Badals of Punjab
The chief minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, has set up a clear family line with son Sukhbir now president of the Shiromani Akali Dal and a key figure in the state administration. Numerous relatives have other influential positions.

The Chautalas of Haryana
Devi Lal was the founder of this dynasty, whose reins are now in the hands of his son, former CM Om Prakash Chautala. He in turn has two sons, Abhay and Ajay, who are active in politics. Together, the family controls the Indian National Lok Dal.





Following In Mom/Dad's Footsteps

  • Jaswant Singh (BJP) - Manvendra Singh
  • Rajesh Pilot (Cong) - Sachin Pilot
  • Vasundhararaje (BJP) - Dushyant Singh
  • Maneka Gandhi (BJP) - Varun Gandhi
  • Purno Sangma (NCP) - Agatha Sangma
  • Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (PDP)- Mehbooba Mufti
  • Biju Patnaik (JD) - Naveen Patnaik (BJD)
  • Charan Singh (Lok Dal) - Ajit Singh (RLD)
  • Jitendra Prasada (Cong) - Jitin Prasada
  • Sunil Dutt (Cong) - Priya Dutt
  • K Chandrasekhara Rao(TRS) - Anand Rao
  • Murli Deora (Cong) - Milind Deora
  • Madhavrao Scindia (Cong) Jyotiraditya Scindia
  • S.R. Bommai (JD) - Basavraj Bommai (BJP)
  • K. Karunakaran (Cong) - K. Muralidharan (NCP)
  • Gundu Rao (Cong) - Dinesh Gundu Rao
  • J.H. Patel (JD) - Mahima Patel (Swarna Yagna Party)
  • P. Chidambaram (Cong)- Karti Chidambaram


"Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves and it is tiresome for children to be forever explaining things to them."
The Little Prince
, a children's classic

Rahul Gandhi has now put it on public record that he does not like being called "Yuvraj" or crown prince. By saying so publicly, he has indirectly admonished senior leaders of the Congress party who had taken to calling him the heir apparent in recent days. Ironically, it is because Rahul is so clearly the heir apparent that he can signal his displeasure. He's also not the first Gandhi to be called "yuvraj": in his time, father Rajiv too was addressed by that title as was uncle Sanjay. Even as Rahul shuns all royal references, he has, of late, been traversing the land like a latter-day prince among commoners, visiting a Dalit home one day, descending on a tribal hamlet the next. Congress leaders say he is living out his destiny as the scion of the Nehru-Gandhis, the mother of all political dynasties in India.

The Nehru-Gandhis
Son Rahul may spurn the 'yuvraj' honorific, but then he's king of all that he surveys

But clearly they are not the only political dynasty. While the Nehru-Gandhis are ensconced on the Delhi throne, across the land there are regional satraps, caste leaders and former socialists who have all been reborn as dynasts. One look at the political map of the country and you see an alarming proliferation of leaders and parties that now promote family rule. In the north, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and son Sukhbir seem to be running a private limited company. In the south, M. Karunanidhi appears to be an ancient king presiding over a Tamil kingdom, while his sons and daughter wait in the wings. In the west, the political clans of the Thackerays and Pawars compete for power in Maharashtra. Besides, there are the Abdullahs of Kashmir, the Chautalas of Haryana, the Gowdas of Karnataka...

The Laloo parivar
A true family man, the Laloo rail came chugging to New Delhi, but Bihar's still a family outpost

Socialist icon and essayist Madhu Limaye had once described "political progeny" as a "curse" and argued that only individuals without children should occupy high office. Limaye's views were clearly extreme and later-day socialists like Laloo Prasad Yadav never contemplated limiting the impressive size of their families. And not only did Laloo hold high office, he famously pushed wife Rabri Devi into the chief minister's chair when forced to demit the post. The actions of his brothers-in-law Sadhu and Subhash Yadav also contributed to the overall disenchantment with his rule in Bihar. Even out of power in the state, Laloo has made it clear that his trust quotient does not extend beyond his wife. Similarly, the other socialist-cum-Mandal hero Mulayam Singh now has no scruples about promoting both brother Shivpal Yadav and son Akhilesh Yadav in the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

UP ka Yadav
Mulayam Singh has no qualms promoting son Akhilesh and brother Shivpal, ace photo opportunists


How has dynasty become so entrenched in the Indian political system? What is the impetus behind dynastic rule? What perpetuates it? For one, most political parties are now subservient to one supreme leader. He or she can therefore wilfully impose their offspring on the party. Besides, as sociologist Ashis Nandy argues, "It's all about the money. Huge sums have to be collected for every election. Most of this money is unaccounted for. As a leader advances in age, he feels he can only trust his children or other family members to keep the money within a party that has been built around one leader anyway." There is a canny similarity in the sagas of M. Karunanidhi and Bal Thackeray. Both veterans have pushed their children to the forefront while falling out with their nephews, the Marans in Chennai and Raj Thackeray in Mumbai.

The Thackerays
Son Uddhav inherited the Shiv Sena mantle, even if nephew Raj was perceived more charismatic, worthy

Last year, Karunanidhi sent his daughter Kanimozhi to the Rajya Sabha and she is expected to be a big player in the future of the DMK. Why not, she argues. If children follow their parents' professions in other fields, it is inevitable they would do so in politics as well. And following in her father's footsteps, Kanimozhi is now both a writer and a politician. Seated in her tastefully done-up Delhi home, she says, "One can't inherit a political legacy like my father's. But we were all born in the midst of it." Was she wary to begin with? "Before entering politics I had worries about all my personal space being invaded. Then I took the plunge and have no regrets. " Today, Kanimozhi is seen as a charismatic DMK leader. But she avoids talk of politics within the family and argues that "there can be nothing called dynasty in electoral politics since everyone has to get chosen by the voter".

The Abdullahs
It isn't easy living up to grandfather Sheikh Abdullah or being in Papa Farooq's shoes. Just ask Omar.

That is, in fact, the big problem with perpetuating the rule of the family. The charisma fades with every successive generation. Indira Gandhi started the dynastic tradition in India partly because as Nandy says, "she survived in an environment where she didn't trust anyone and no one trusted her". But her descendants can never match her in charisma or political acumen. Journalist Inder Malhotra, author of Dynasties of India and Beyond, says that the successive generations have never been a patch on the founders of the dynasties. "Sonia and Rahul cannot hold a candle to the sheer grit and determination of a woman like Indira Gandhi," he says.

Historian Ram Guha sees the glass as being half full. "I do not believe it is inevitable that families and mini dynasties should dominate Indian politics," he says. "The Gandhis started it and others followed. But it is hopefully a tradition that is bringing in diminishing returns." Guha believes that offspring like M.K. Stalin and Uddhav Thackeray can only keep control over their parties as long as their fathers are around; other inheritors of the mantle like Rahul and Omar Abdullah have not been a success. "Perhaps the blurring of the boundaries between a political party and a family may be only a phase in Indian politics, from the 1980s to 2010," he says. "Let's hope the phenomena has peaked because it is not healthy for democracy."

The Gowdas
Karnataka politics derives all its colour and drama from this ex-PM father, ex-CM son, and brothers

But what makes dynasties unique is that electoral defeat does not loosen family control over the party. Indeed, it only reinforces the need to keep the family structure intact since trusted people are required at the helm after loss of power. For instance, the Nehru-Gandhi grip on the party will not loosen if the Congress loses the next poll. Instead, a clamour will begin to bring forward the next Nehru-Gandhi. There is also the example of Sharad Pawar being forced to quit the Congress because he could not tolerate the idea of the Nehru-Gandhi dominance and questioned Sonia's foreign origins. Since then Pawar has obviously seen the virtues of family ties and brought daughter Supriya Sule into the Rajya Sabha two years ago. Ask her about her father's earlier stance and Sule says, "My father has never spoken against dynasties or political families, and Soniaji has moved to another level where her origins are not relevant." But hasn't her father's stature helped her easy passage to the Rajya Sabha? "Of course I owe everything to my father. Being his daughter I knew most politicians and leaders even before I entered Parliament.

But the NCP does not believe in family rule," she says.

Nobody would admit they believe in it. And no ideology can openly advocate it. Yet in the tradition of charisma-obsessed politics followed in India, ideology is subservient to personality. Has India therefore regressed to a state where political monarchies are subverting democracy? Omar Abdullah, president of the National Conference and the third generation in the dynasty founded by the legendary Sheikh Abdullah, asks that if two families, the Bushes and Clintons, can rule the US for nearly 30 years, why do we have a problem in India? Besides, he points out: "In Kashmir today, where assembly polls are due later this year, most prominent players are offsprings of politicians - Mehbooba Mufti, Sajjad Lone, the Mirwaiz." Can he live up to the illustrious Abdullahs? "People will keep saying I will never match up," he admits bluntly. "I won't because it is impossible to fill the shoes of a leadership born out of a struggle." Will his children join politics? "I hope not. My mother used to say that I would join politics over her dead body. My father now tells her, Omar is in politics and you are still alive!"

The Muftis
Daughter Mehbooba and father Mufti Mohammed have made PDP a political force in the Valley

There is obviously an inevitability about children joining the professions of their parents. Yet politics and electoral democracy are meant to be media of social change and politicians are supposed to be accountable. If a Sachin Pilot joins the profession of his late father Rajesh Pilot, he would, as he says, "get the initial boost but the rest would be up to me". It's different, though, when families control parties. The Nehru-Gandhis have their own dramatic history. But in the case of regional leaders it often amounts to reducing politics to a business and their parties to private limited companies. So much of politics is now polluted by commercial lobbies, business interests and unaccounted wealth. That is why commentators like Ashis Nandy and Cho Ramaswamy, editor, Tughlaq, argue that money and power are the ties that bind these families even as they lead to dramatic public disputes. Says Cho: "Politics has become like business. In business, no outside talent is promoted. Similarly in politics they want to keep it all within the family."

Dynasty should be the antithesis of electoral politics. But in the hurly-burly of Indian democracy, dynasty rules. Sadly, many leaders who have forced their progeny upon the nation were leaders who once struggled to establish their movements or parties. Self-made individuals, they came up the hard way. But having arrived, they want their children to have an easy ride.

By Saba Naqvi Bhaumik with Pushpa Iyengar

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