Dynastic politics is perhaps the antithesis of democracy. Critics say it is amongst many political evils in the Indian democratic setup where most parties, including the Congress, are being run like family enterprises. The paradox is many regional satraps have emerged in the past 75 years and co-exist in a democracy. More are emerging. National parties are at the forefront of the phenomenon across all States. Except for a handful like the Communist parties, only seven or eight of the fifty relevant parties in India are free from dynastic rule. During the 42nd Foundation Day of BJP recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi observed, “There are still two kinds of politics going on in this country. One is the politics of family devotion (dynasts), and the other (like BJP) is committed to patriotism.” While ‘Congress-free’ Bharat’ and ‘corruption-free’ India were prominent BJP slogans in the last two Lok Sabha elections, the narrative for the 2024 campaign would be the ‘dynasty-free Bharat’.
The BJP has now realised that the real threat comes from the family-ruled regional parties in several States. After side-lining the Congress dynasty, the party has identified eight prominent families that dominate State politics nationwide and intend to decimate them politically. Besides Telangana, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan will hold Assembly elections in 2023. Therefore, eliminating the provincial czars would be Modi’s next big project. The question is whether it is possible to eliminate the dynasts as visualised by the BJP? It is indeed ambitious. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, there are many dynastic families like the Abdullahs. Tall leaders among them have mesmerised their electorate. The Muftis in Kashmir, the Badals and Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab, the Rajes and Pilots in Rajasthan, and the Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are such dynasts. In Maharashtra, both Thackeray and Pawar families are prominent. The Patnaik in Odisha, the Gowdas and Bommais in Karnataka, the Gogoi’s in Assam, Karunanidhi’s in Tamil Nadu, the Raos, and the Reddys in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, the Sorens in Jharkhand, and the Chautalas and Hoodas in Haryana are notable.
The party currently has just four MLAs in Tamil Nadu (riding piggyback on the AIADMK) and none in Andhra Pradesh or Kerala. Telangana has three BJP MLAs, which it has won on its strength. Therefore, the first step would be to weaken them. There are 120 seats in the five States in the South. Despite all efforts, the party could not find a hold in Southern States except in Karnataka. Now comes the question why do these dynastic leaders sway people? Family-oriented parties choose their kith and kin to succeed because they feel they are more an asset than a liability. They find it easy to install and train them to take over when they die. Besides, they see them as more an asset than a liability. Secondly, family candidates are more likely to get elected than new candidates. Thirdly, some regional leaders have realised that establishing a family rule gives them loyalty and confidence. It’s premature to expect the end of political dynasties as it may take a while as people are stuck with the dynasts for now. The present-day leaders are not ashamed of projecting their family members as political heirs. The only consolation is that even the dynasts have come through the electoral process.