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Freedom from caste and dynasties: Multiplicity of parties hurts India

If dynasties and castes are to be made irrelevant in politics, India must reject the multiplicity of political parties.

SUDHANSHU RANJAN

The formation of the Union council of ministers is a demonstration of the unchallenged authority that Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys. He is not hamstrung as he does not have to appease any leaders or constituencies. So he could draft a rank outsider liker Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as the minister for external affairs. His talent is required in furthering the foreign policy that Mr Modi is pursuing. The elections of 2014 and that of 2019 transformed the polity and politics of India. It is the virtual decimation of regional parties and diminution of the Congress Party.

The question is, will the Congress and other parties learn from the defeat and be more democratic? There is a spate of resignations in the Congress Party. However, there is no official word from the party after the Congress Working Committee, as expected, rejected the offer of party president Rahul Gandhi to resign. His statement, as reported in the media, that the party president can be a non-Gandhi, is an inadvertent but an unequivocal admission of the party being in the grip of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Cracks have appeared in other parties also. Instead of making an official statement about the stand of the party, parties have decided to keep away from TV debates and asked their spokespersons to not participate. There is an open demand for the resignation of Tejashwi Yadav from the RJD. Dynastic politics got a body blow as the seemingly insuperable caste factor got buried under muscular nationalism and development politics. Since most of these dynastic parties are caste-based, championing the caste cause unabashedly, they became irrelevant.

Support for Mr Gandhi continuing as party president has come not only from his party leaders and workers but also from leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, M.K. Stalin and some others who themselves head dynastic parties. Naturally, any idea of Mr Gandhi stepping down sends them into a tizzy, as their family fortresses seem to be crashing down. Family politics is antithetical to democracy, striking at its raison d’être. Mr Gandhi is the sixth scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family to take over as the president of the Congress Party. He had admitted at the University of California in the United States on September 12, 2017 that dynasty is the hallmark of Indian politics. He is correct to a great extent but it is not all-encompassing as there are some happy exceptions. One can criticise the BJP and the Left parties on so many counts, but dynastic politics? Like his great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru who succeeded his father Motilal Nehru, Mr Gandhi succeeded his mother. Though Motilal Nehru had to do a lot of scheming to foist his son, the elevation of Mr Gandhi was smooth without any hiccups. Motilal Nehru did the spadework to project his son for the post when, in 1928, a debate was going on inside the Congress Party whether the old guard should retain the reins of the party or the mantle should pass to the young. Motilal Nehru favoured his son for the post of Congress president and wrote to Mahatma Gandhi favouring his son. Initially, Gandhi was not in favour of Jawaharlal but he succeeded in persuading Mahatma Gandhi to pass on the baton to Jawaharlal Nehru. When Jawaharlal Nehru was appointed Congress president in the 1929 Lahore Session, he was taken in a carriage in the city by Congress workers and Motilal Nehru was one of them to pull it.

Mr Rahul Gandhi was elected uncontested though even his mother was challenged by Jitendra Prasad. However, supremos of regional dynastic parties did not show any hypocrisy and appointed their sons straightaway virtually as their successors. It is the same Lalu and Mulayam who earlier excoriated the Nehru-Gandhi clan for its dynastic politics. Most of these leaders who established dynasties from Kashmir to Kanyakumari boast of people electing them in elections. Lalu bragged that he had made a woman chief minister, as if Rabri Devi were the only woman in the whole of Bihar — with a population of over 12 crore then.

If dynasties and castes are to be made irrelevant in politics, India must reject the multiplicity of political parties. There are seven national, 24 state-recognised and 2,044 registered unrecognised parties in India. Most of the parties are family fiefdoms of big leaders surviving on caste appeal. In 1952, there were 14 national parties, but the Congress Party was predominant till 1967. It had such a dominant position that political scientist Rajni Kothari called it the Congress System. He said that democracy was in robust health despite the fact that only one political party was dominating politics. Some of the national parties of the 1950s like the Bolshevik Party of India, the Ram Rajya Parishad and the Krishikar Lok Party are not even there today. However, the predominance of the Congress led to centralisation of power and political hubris reflected in the brazen abuse of Article 356 of the Constitution (dismissal of state governments) on spurious grounds. Indira Gandhi, after her emergence as the pre-eminent leader of the Congress Party, dispensed with the intra-party elections in 1971 and leaders handpicked by her were foisted as chief ministers on states. Many a time, chief ministers were elected not by the Congress legislature party, but on the lawn of her residence.

People have rejected dynastic and caste politics as most dynasties are caste-based. Democracy will fully come of age when development will be the only agenda. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a categorical statement that only two castes will remain — the poor and those who want to alleviate poverty. He has got a huge mandate and he can do it because people have responded to his slogan “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” to which he has added “sabka vishwas”. If smaller dynastic caste-based parties are decimated in a few successive elections, India can also head towards a two-party system. The speech Mr Modi made after getting elected as NDA leader has been universally applauded for its generosity and inclusiveness. There was no hint of any rancour for anyone. It will inspire confidence in different castes and communities and they may shun their caste leaders for good.

It may, however, be too early to write the obituary of regional parties. The new government should enact some law to make the functioning of political parties more democratic. It has been done in the United States, Canada and many countries in Europe. It can be done here as well.

The writer is a senior TV journalist and author

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