Political dynasties in the subcontinent

Published: March 2, 2013
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anwer.mooraj@tribune.com.pk

anwer.mooraj@tribune.com.pk

India and Pakistan have a lot in common. Love for cricket, fear of the police, corruption in high and low places, shortage of electricity, mass poverty, extremism, a growing population, persecution of religious minorities, a liking for spicy food, Perfidious Albion, superstition, ethnic medicine, quacks, progressive bankers, insurgencies, and a spirit of defiance. There are, however, a few basic differences. India has a sizeable middle class. The country claims to be secular. Considerable importance is given to education. People caught with illegal weapons are thrown into prison. Except for Delhi, charmingly referred to as the rape capital of India, the treatment of women in Maharastra, south India and Bengal is vastly different. There is still rule of law, and but for Indira Gandhi’s State of Emergency which suspended civil liberties, India has practised its brand of democracy and elections have been held at regular intervals. And, I have never heard of a group of lawyers anywhere in India garlanding and showering rose petals on a religious zealot who is captured on television assassinating the governor of a province.

There’s another common feature between the two countries, and this trait can also be found in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka: the existence of dynastic politics. There is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of India, the Zia and Mujib families of Bangladesh and the Bandaranaike family of Sri Lanka. In Pakistan, all political parties, with the notable exception of the Jamaat-e-Islami, have a dynastic hierarchy. The PPP, which still feeds on the Bhutto charisma, the PML-Q of the Chaudhry Brothers, the ANP of the Baccha Khan clan, the PML-N of the Sharif brothers, and other factions of the Muslim League are supreme examples of family rule, which inhibits the emergence of talent within the party. Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain pose something of an enigma as they don’t appear to have appointed any successors. And one wonders what would happen to their movements should they peg down from natural or unnatural causes.

The communist parties of India and the Bharatiya Janata Party, while they have their supporters, are not run as a family business, and switch leaders within the party. Many of the other groupings, however, are and the supreme example of this is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty formed after the Partition of the subcontinent. At least, 150 MPs of the world’s largest democracy were handed down parliamentary seats by their fathers, a couple of months ago. A notable example is MK Stalin, the third son of Karunanidhi, the octogenarian president of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the Tamil Nadu state. MK, who was born in 1943, the year Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union died, was named after the communist leader who broke the back of the Nazis and won the Second World War for the allies.

After the death of the right wing leader of the Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, the party split into two factions. Uddhav, the founder’s son led one splinter group and his cousin Raj led another. A few years ago, trouble also brewed in Andhra Pradesh where the popular actor, the late NT Rama Rao, founder of the Telegu Desam Party, on a whim, wanted to hand over power to his newly-acquired wife Lakshmiamma. This was fiercely resisted by Chandrababu Naidu, his son-in-law, who eventually gained control of the party after the death of the matinee idol, and nobody heard of Lakshmiamma anymore. After Pandit Nehru abolished the jagirdari system in India, dynasties do not have feudal or tribal roots. Nor does religion have the same abiding grip on the popular imagination as in Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • Gp65
    Mar 3, 2013 - 12:20AM

    Factual for the most part. Of course the split between uddhav and Raj had occurred well before BT’s demise.

    But such family business also happens in US though to a lower degree. Clinton! Bush, Pelosi,Kennedy, Ron Paul and son etc. are just some examples in national politics

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  • thor
    Mar 3, 2013 - 12:25AM

    150 MPs of the world’s largest democracy do perform for the people ..else they know,they will be booted out after 5 years by the same people.
    Its like bollywood..you can get an initial break in movies because of your parent’s clout..rest depends on perseverance.

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  • plal
    Mar 3, 2013 - 1:18AM

    Author is correct but I would like to add that after Jawahar Lal Nehru’s death mantle does not pass on to his daughter-but to Lal Bahadur Shastri – and only after his death-Indira Gandhi was chosen by the party to be PM.

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  • Zalim singh
    Mar 3, 2013 - 5:47AM

    Excellent thesis. Just one small disagreement- persecution of religious minoritiesThis does not happen in India. We have persecution of Majority Hindu community. Minorities have lots of sops here and are happy.

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  • laugh
    Mar 3, 2013 - 7:21AM

    what about pti intra-party elections? The writer doesn’t watch news?

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  • Gervasis K.
    Mar 3, 2013 - 8:11AM

    Kindly see that the information regarding the year of Joseph Stalin’s death as given in the article as well as that of the birth of M.K. Stalin of DMK party India is not exact. Both happened in 1953 and not in 1943.

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  • ruby
    Mar 3, 2013 - 9:20AM

    Firstly:

    The country claims to be secular.

    ???

    Secondly there are a lot of inaccuracies in the article.

    At least, 150 MPs of the world’s largest democracy were handed down parliamentary seats by their fathers, a couple of months ago.

    The last parliamentary elections in India took place 4 years ago.
    If the author is referring to Legislative assembly seats, I don’t know if the number is true.

    This was fiercely resisted by Chandrababu Naidu, his son-in-law, who eventually gained control of the party after the death of the matinee idol, and nobody heard of Lakshmiamma anymore.

    Chandrababu Naidu gained control of his party while his father-in-law matinee idol was still alive. He led a never-seen-before coup in Indian electoral politics by roping in his own party MLAs to support him as Chief Minister. This extraordinary feat was the subject of an RGV movie.

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  • vasan
    Mar 3, 2013 - 9:28AM

    “The country claims to be secular. ”
    It is this kind of misplaced adjectives and denials is Pakistan’s troubles. Be advised India is secular, was secular and will be secular. The world accepts this. Our constitution and
    laws are secular and our people are proud about that. We dont “claim” what we are not, like the “peaceful country”, “land of the pure” , “72 virgin theory” etc etc.

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  • Arzoo
    Mar 3, 2013 - 4:10PM

    @ Mooraj Sahib: Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin died March 5, 1953, not in 1943. Otherwise an excellent piece of article.
    @ Zalim Singh: Religious minorities in India are persecuted and targeted by extremist political parties and organizations, though not condoned and watched helplessly by the Government of India, as it happens in Pakistan. Also, when minorities are subjected to persecution it is noteworthy that a substantial population in India disapproves and expresses its’ revulsion. And, NO, the majority in India is not persecuted, unless you are talking about the Dalits.

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  • David_Smith
    Mar 3, 2013 - 5:29PM

    @Arzoo:
    Thick, coming from a Pakistani (I presume). Don’t you read even your own newspapers?

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  • Arzoo
    Mar 3, 2013 - 6:22PM

    @David_Smith: Your comment is as clear as mud. But your presumption is correct that I am a Pakistani. Very much so. And, yes, I grew up, from my elementary school age, reading not only Pakistani newspapers but also the The Guardian (which at time was called The Manchester Guardian,) the New York Times, Der Spiegal, and many other international newspapers.

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  • John B
    Mar 3, 2013 - 9:09PM

    Everywhere in modern democracies, as in the past, political succession depends on career politicians and cabal. There is nothing wrong in dynastic politicians as long as the ascend is fair and square in each party and people vote for them.

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Mar 3, 2013 - 10:39PM

    @author:
    “…..the supreme example of this is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty formed after the Partition of the subcontinent….'”
    .
    Is it not misleading not to mention Moti Lal, who launched his son, Jawahar Lal, on a political career, which took place long before 47.

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  • Kazim
    Mar 3, 2013 - 11:01PM

    Stalin died in 1953 Sir.

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  • Mar 3, 2013 - 11:22PM

    @Zalim singh:

    “Persecution of Religious Minorities does not happen here”

    I disagree, The rampage on the innocent sikhs after Indira Gandhi’s assasination,
    the teatment meted out to Dalits in the past by the powerful upper classes, the problems between extremists in the Hindu majority and the muslims, there are many such examples. In absolute terms while not drawing comparisons to feel better than the situation in Pakistan, it is equally despicable in “shining India”.

    With best regards.

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  • Rehmat
    Mar 4, 2013 - 12:13AM

    It looks like there were a lot of factual errors
    – the year of death of Stalin being 1953 not 1943 as stated by the author.
    – the fact that division of Shiv Sena between Raj And Uddhav did not happen after Bal Thackeray’s death
    – The fact that Chandrababu Naidu’s ascent to power did not happen after Ntr’s death
    – The fact that Indira Gandhi did not become PM right after Nehru’s demise, Shastri did
    – The fact that India has not had parliamentary elections a few months back as implied by the author but a full 4 years back (the author could not have Ben talking about assembly elections since MLAs not MPs are elected in assembly elections)

    In these days of Internet where facts like these are just one google search away, so many factual inaccuracies in an article by such a senior writer are highly disappointing.

    Once before too the author had written a book review based on an email circulated by Republican neocons without actually reading the book. As a result some things stated by the author were the exactly opposite of what was stated in the book.

    Another time the author had implied that terms like smart casual or high tea were uniquely desi and not used by the British or Americans.

    A little effort in each case would have prevented these blatant errors that erode credibility.

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  • Rehmat
    Mar 4, 2013 - 6:37AM

    @SS:
    There are communal riots between Hindus and Muslims and thankfully the numbers are reducing. But there is no systematic persecution of Muslims the way Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians are persecuted in Pakistan.

    @abid p khan Motilal Nehru was a senior Congress functionary – yes. But to say that Jawaharlal was launched in his career by his father is wrong. There were no perks in the freedom movement and like most congress leaders Jawaharlal spent years in jail – quite unlike the Muslim League whose leadership did not spend a single day in jail.

    @Author – too many errors that could have been easily fact checked. Very disappointing. Some that I observed and others have pointed out are

    1 The split between Uddhav and Raj had taken place many years before Bal Thackeray’s demise
    2, The Chandrababu episode happened well before NTR’s death
    3, Indira did not directly succeed Nehru in the PM post, Shastri did. If Shastri had not died so soon, history could well have been different. Also it wasn’t Nehru’s doing but Kamraj who put Indira in the top slot thinking she was goongi gudia.
    4, The Lok Sabha elections which lead to elections of MPs happened 4 years back. They did not happen just a couple of months back as you indicated.
    5. Stalin died in 1953 – well after the WW2 concluded bringing down the iron curtain and not in 1943 as you indicated

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  • thor
    Mar 4, 2013 - 12:07PM

    @SS:
    The teatment meted out to Dalits in the past .
    It is past..Dalits are given quotas in jobs & education now.
    problems between extremists in the Hindu majority and the muslims..
    those are aberration..unlike shia/sunni/ahmedi things happening everyday in Pakistan..India is a country of continental scale & each one of the billions plus may not turn secular.But the state is working for it & that really matters.

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Mar 4, 2013 - 7:15PM

    @Rehmat:
    @abid p khan Motilal Nehru was a senior Congress functionary – yes. But to say that Jawaharlal was launched in his career by his father is wrong. There were no perks in the freedom movement …..”
    .
    Nehru Jr learned the ropes from his father. No harm done if the father grooms his son to become a politician. But if your definition of a politician is that a person who is out to get perks, you are degrading the freedom fighters and/or serious politicians too. I never said Nehru Sr or Jr were after perks. What a pitiful regard you have about two giants of the freedom movement.

    “….and like most congress leaders Jawaharlal spent years in jail – quite unlike the Muslim League whose leadership did not spend a single day in jail….”
    .
    The longer time you spend in a jail the better politician you are! Not a bad qualification. It is said, reading and thinking widens your horizons. Perhaps not in every single case.

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  • Rehmat
    Mar 4, 2013 - 10:16PM

    @Abid P. Khan: “The longer time you spend in a jail the better politician you are! Not a bad qualification.”

    When you are fighting an occupying force trough non-violent means, a jail term is certainly a badge of honour.

    *”What a pitiful regard you have about two giants of the freedom movement.”*

    Sorry. I meant the exact opposite. You implied that Nehru’s position as PM was somehow bequeathed by his father and I wanted to point out that this was not the case. Nehru and Sardar Patel were giants of theIndian freedom movement. While I personally would have preferred if Sardar had become the PM, no one can take away Nehru’s contribution to the freedom movement and also the solid democratic foundation that he laid for India are his own.

    In that respect one cannot compare Rajiv Gandhi’s ascendancy to the throne which was not based on any accomplishments but just his family name.I was thus trying to say that while Rajiv and Rahul can be said to have risen through dynastic succession, that cannot be said about Nehru.

    “It is said, reading and thinking widens your horizons. Perhaps not in every single case”.

    I have noticed that you have a habit of making personal remarks about people that you disagree with. Not in good taste.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 5, 2013 - 12:39AM

    @Remat
    why india got freedom we all know man it was germany man thanks to them other wise no one in india had guts for getting freedom from Raj specially gandhi and jinnah.

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