Dynasties could be the key narrative in 2024 - Hindustan Times
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Dynasties could be the key narrative in 2024

Aug 18, 2022 10:45 PM IST

The BJP is hoping to recast itself as an anti-dynastic force, blaming the old bloodline guard for the ills plaguing India. It not only helps in shifting blame but also in weakening political outfits that continue to resist the party in several states

Buda vansh Kabir ka,upaja poot kamal. In the Hindi heartland, this centuries-old folk proverb underlines both the hope and pitfalls of dynasty politics – hope that the offspring will carry forward a great man’s legacy but also aware that the same legacy can be sunk by a wayward son. In the corridors of Indian politics, dynasties are common, having come to represent political continuity, street power and family honour. As a society steeped in feudal hierarchies, we have provided legitimacy to heirs of power, politics and property. Though democratic processes have ruptured the texture of feudal socio-political relationships in independent India to an extent, their charisma has remained largely intact, especially for established political families.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 76th Independence Day, Delhi (ANI) PREMIUM
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 76th Independence Day, Delhi (ANI)

Yet, never before have dynasties come under greater threat than now. Under an onslaught led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – he mentioned dynasties as one of the two biggest problems facing India today in his Independence Day address this week – and senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a string of indictments by federal probe agencies, political dynasties are fighting for their survival. But why have the PM and his party chosen this particular target to expend their considerable political capital?

The answer is not tough. Dynastic charm has endured in India for decades and forms the glue for political operatives who float around in pursuit of power. It provides symbolic authority to new claimants who can appropriate powerful legacies to themselves at relatively little cost. It also transfers power and patronage networks and provides the capacity to aspire for political power to successors by handing over money, muscle power and cadre to them. Despite its recent setbacks, dynasty remains the most efficient form of this transfer.

This dynastic transference of image, power and role might appear to be antithetical to the diction of a democratic process, which ordinarily is critical of bloodline legitimacy. But call it structural weakness or instrumental fulfilment of aspiration, the ordinary voter is happy to disregard the moral argument and vote for the heirs of the Nehrus, Yadavs, Sorens, Badals, Singhs Reddys and Gowdas despite a litany of complaints, corruption charges and disillusionment. They do so not because of a lack of choice but because they believe this is the most efficient option for their uplift. At least five states from Jharkhand to Tamil Nadu are being ruled by the heirs of political dynasties. Look no further than some of the biggest challengers to the BJP in recent years – most of whom are regional satraps and either scions of a political dynasty or busy building their own – and it is clear why the BJP is focusing sharply on dismantling these dynasties ahead of the 2024 general election.

The BJP’s campaign against dynasties has been years in the running, but it has been sharpened by PM Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, and new leaders such as Uttar Pradesh (UP) chief minister Yogi Adityanath. In his Independence Day address, Modi blamed dynasties for a malaise stalking not just Indian politics but other realms of life as well. In his repeated criticism of dynasties lies an effort to erode the space and imagination that dynasties hold in the hearts and minds of the electorate and instead cast them as enemies of democracy that are not only reprehensible morally but also hindrances to development and a better way of life for the citizen.

This ties in with the natural weakening of dynastic charisma as an offshoot of the changing form and nature of democratic electoral politics itself. With greater connectivity, more citizen participation and awareness, aspirations are rising in the grassroots and people are less willing to continue voting for a family or heir simply on account of their bloodline. Another reason for the decline is the churn in public memory. While working in the villages of UP and Bihar, we saw that ancestral memories percolate among two or three generations in a rural society and oral traditions don’t last beyond three generations. This is clearly seen in how the memories of Congress stalwarts have been eroded slowly from the minds of people living even in erstwhile party strongholds.

We are entering a turbulent new phase in politics. The BJP is hoping to recast itself as an anti-dynastic force, blaming the old bloodline guard for the ills plaguing India. It not only helps in shifting blame but also in weakening political outfits that continue to resist the party in several states. The discourse on dynasty, and the opposition to it, is set to emerge as a central narrative in the 2024 election.

Badri Narayan is director, GB Pant Institute of Social Sciences.

The views expressed are personal.

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