Fifth Columnist: Family Imperatives
To paraphrase Nirad C Chaudhuri’s great autobiographical odyssey, let’s call it ‘Thy Hand, Great Dynast!’

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made a very pertinent point this week in his lecture at the University of Berkley in the USA, when he talked about the spread of dynasties across India’s political, economic and social spectrum. He specifically mentioned Akhilesh Yadav and Anurag Thakur as examples of dynasts in politics, Abhishek Bachchan in cinema and Isha and Akash Ambani in politics.

To be sure, had Rahul decided to start taking names, he would probably have had to devote the entire speech to such entitlement that runs rampant in India, indeed in South Asia, and would have still fallen short of more examples to quote.

The more important thing that the Nehru-Gandhi scion glossed over, for obvious reasons, was the fact that it was his family that led the charge of this Light Brigade. India’s great and venerable first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was `soft’ when it came to family matters and there are historical instances that can be quoted in the years that followed where many Congress stalwarts – Vallabh Bhai Patel, Yashwant Rao Chavan, Kamraj, Lal Bahadur Shastri, TT Krishnamachari and Morarji Desai – to name just a few, were systematically belittled, their contributions to India and the country’s main stream political ecosystem undermined.

Yet, today there is little doubt that apart from the 20 per cent of the middle classes, which pays it taxes and which has to compete in an open system, the vast majority of India is hereditary. So an agriculturist’s son would be an agriculturist, an actor’s son or daughter an actor, an industrialist’s and a lawyer’s progeny following the family tradition, it is virtually an endless list. 

As for the political class, apart from the BJP to some measure, all political parties, particularly regional outfits, are full-fledged family entities, where beginning with the party president down to the district president are not just from the same family but from the same ‘gotra’.

One of the lesser chronicled but enormously significant factors that led to the rise of Narendra Modi was the perception (not misplaced) that he was not entitled in the way other political parties were. Images of Modi’s mother coming to cast her vote at the polling booth in a cycle rickshaw in Ahmedabad, went a long way to enforce that perception. To that extent, the BJP’s success can also be attributed to it being a ‘professional’ party as in a professionally-run organisation where family loyalty and baggage are not yet in vogue. It is another matter that if the BJP rules India like Congress or some other regional parties have done in their respective states, it could well come to acquire what is now a national characteristic.

To that extent, Rahul Gandhi did well to mirror the rising public disgust with spoilt, entitled and inherited brats. More than any other political party, Congress has been at the receiving end of such sentiment. A country, which has invested for more than seven decades in democracy and a public that is up to its neck witnessing dynasts walk away with the goodies while they struggle, is not willing to suffer indignities any longer. The trouble with family outfits it that once the good times are over, and for the Congress it has continued for more than five decades in Indian politics, then it becomes very difficult to make a comeback. A return is possible only if there is a vast restructuring within the organisation and of that, there has been little evidence in the Congress since the rout of 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where it secured less than 50 Lok Sabha seats.

One of the much underrated reasons for Samajwadi Party and Mulayam’s family rout in the recent UP’s assembly elections, were images of his second son Prateek driving around in his sleek Rs 5 crore-plus Lamborghini in downtown Hazratganj, even as the state was reeling under drought and despair. Even a cursory look at other regional parties, which have adopted the Congress model, will reveal that it is a failing template.

It was not always like this though. The country’s countless freedom fighters came from the ranks – Khudiram Bose, Bhagat Singh, Shahnawaz Khan, Rajguru – to name just a few, had no family name or wealth to go by. There were several millions others, whose names will never be known or have not been chronicled. They had just one passion and were willing to go for it whole hog. In contrast, today’s Rajya Sabha or Upper House has nearly half of its representatives who belong to political families.

Indeed, it would fair to say that a vast majority of businesses in the world and not just India are family owned, family run or both. These include small, medium, large and even listed companies. The corporate cycle of success and failure depends hugely on the decisions that these companies make in their management and ownership orientation.

But recent studies indicate that massive successes even in family businesses can be attributed to professionalising their organisations by withdrawing family from key executive positions across the board. By the same token, studies attribute dismal failures to family members being in key executive positions. While Rahul’s statement has sure ignited interest, in the absence of any follow up, it remains just that – words.

Ranjit Bhushan