The family way

Book extract from John Elliott’s Implosion: India’s Tryst With Reality

Published 9 years ago on Apr 26, 2014 3 minutes Read

There has been a surge of dynasties in India during the past decade… Defenders and apologists for what has been happening argue that dynastic politicians have to go through the hoop of being elected, and that their only advantage is the family brand, which eases their entry into politics. 

The best survey was conducted by Patrick French, an author and historian, when he was writing a book, India: A Portrait, with the help of regional journalists and a young statistics cruncher, Arun Kaul. 

They found that, led by the Gandhis, more than a third of the Congress Party’s MPs elected in 2009 had come into politics through a family link. Literally all the MPs (not just Congress) aged under 30, and more than two-thirds of those under 40, were from hereditary political families, whereas less than 10 per cent of MPs over the age of 70 were dynastic. He classified 27 MPs as ‘hyper-hereditary’, including 19 from the Congress, meaning those who had multiple family connections and several family members with political careers.

Regional state-based parties had a higher incidence of hereditary MPs than national parties. All five MPs from Uttar Pradesh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal Party (National People’s Party) had family links, including Ajit Singh, the party leader and son of Charan Singh, who was briefly (1979-80) prime minister. This was also true of six out of 14 MPs belonging to the Orissa-based Biju Janata Dal led by Naveen Patnaik and three MPs from Jammu and Kashmir’s National Conference headed by Farooq and Omar Abdullah.

Seven out of nine MPs from the Maharashtra-based Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — founded and led by Sharad Pawar, a powerful national and regional politician who split from the main Congress party in 1999 over Sonia Gandhi’s emerging role — hailed from political families. Only one MP from the NCP did not have a politically significant family background. Pawar’s acolyte, Praful Patel, is one of the country’s richest MPs….

French surmised that, since the tendency to turn politics into a family business was being emulated across northern India at the state level, with legislators nominating relatives, there was no reason to believe it was not spreading to districts. Other sources suggest that in Mumbai’s 2012 municipal elections, where for the first time 50 per cent of the seats were reserved for women, many of the women candidates were ‘stooges for their politically ensconced kin’, representing men in their families ‘who are the back room boys’.

Evidence found later by French supports my theory that wealth and greed are linked with the growth of dynasties. Aaditya Dar, one of his postgraduate researchers, merged their study findings with a report on the 2009 financial and criminal records of Lok Sabha MPs prepared by the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms. 

Based on MPs’ official (though not always complete) declarations of wealth, this showed that hereditary MPs were four-and-a-half times wealthier than those with no significant political background. Hyper-hereditary MPs were the wealthiest of all. Their average total assets were roughly double those of the hereditary MPs, and they exceeded even MPs with a business background. Of the 20 richest MPs, 15 were hereditary politicians and 10 were in the Congress.