BabaLog! The chosen ones! (It’s all about me, ALWAYS!)
Some years ago, just as his hold over the television watching public in India had peaked, Lalu Prasad made a trip to Pakistan, the land of the well-heeled, well-spoken and khandani politician. He charmed his hosts with his ready wit, one-liners and, most of all, the shocking revelation that he was a first generation politician and that his early school years were spent wandering around on the back of a portly buffalo in the wilds of Bihar. It said a lot about India.
Several others over the years — whether thrown up by the national movement, Periyar’s, JP’s, Communist and Telangana, Lohia, Ram Mandir or Mandal movements — were marvellous testaments to the large Indian political canvas, its openness, its ability to accommodate not just dissent or difference but diversity of origins. This is obviously something rare, and to be treasured in a poor and large democracy. There was even a stone-cutter woman MP from Bihar, and several silent examples still exist.

But suddenly, it is threatening to become like Bollywood, an arena of immense possibilities being choked by just sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, even a nephew-in-law. It appears that people in key leadership positions in several parties are anxious to hand over to immediate and blood relations. Like family jewels, the “MP-ship” or “MLA ticket” is part of the family inheritance. Even caste seems to have been narrowed down to an obsession with kinship. Initially, the BJP tried to be snooty about it and indicate that playing house was something just the Congress did, they did not have a “dynasty”. But, over the years, children of various leaders have taken over, projected as legitimate heirs of political jagirs of all sorts.

In small towns and panchayats, this is sometimes more starkly evident and more openly talked about. Mayoral elections and other municipal-level elections offer an excellent microcosm to watch a phenomenon which is now played out at all levels in political parties.

It cannot be legitimately argued that those who are sons, daughters or even nephews-in-law carry a millstone, and that they not be permitted to do what their parents did. That would violate basic individual rights, and would also militate against the virtual guild system that has very much been part of the Indian tradition (doctors, lawyers, engineers all taking up their parent’s craft without a murmur). Also, in cases where political kin actually secure huge margins of victory and pass the democratic test, to make a case for not allowing sons and daughters to contest would be problematic.

But a damning consequence of this obvious change in the criteria for who gets the ticket, an implicit recognition that leaders’ children would inherit, and that too in the lifetime and under the watchful eye of the parent, has resulted in the weakening of the political party system in India. As even those who are first generation “fighters” in politics — for example, Karunanidhi, Thackeray, Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and innumerable many in the Congress and the BJP (most recently Vilasrao Deshmukh, Shinde and Gopinath Munde) — hand down opportunity directly to their families, how elections are fought has changed.

As the party machinery is not exactly cranked up to help candidates uniformly, those anxious about their scions pump in disproportionate amounts of influence and money to ensure that they land a victory. The older democratic process of the party machinery taking responsibility for ensuring victories has been virtually replaced by a smaller (in the short-term, more “efficient”) family core, which then proceeds to run politics and campaigns like a contractor would, something which ultimately saps traditional essence of a political party. This system is not transparent and ultimately shuts the door to new entrants and aspirations, taking away the only thing that has the power to help people in an unequal society like India — the promise of equality of opportunity.

What is ironic is that most cases of “handing over” to children are made on the basis of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But the script is very different from what it is made out. In the mid-late sixties Indira Gandhi was struggling to make a mark, but her father, India’s first prime minister, never really left it for her. A cursory reading of the political history of the times functions as a textbook tutorial on how to capture a party as large and restless as the Congress. Young Indira moved smartly and politically. Apart from intelligently using her confidantes (most of them Kashmiri pandits like herself, though not necessarily related to her), she even adopted an ideology to take on the old and snarling guard brilliantly after

her father’s death in order to settle herself in. This was a succession ensured by the successor well after the predecessor had passed on! Of course, there is something about hailing from political families — the expectations, dinner-time conversations, turbulence, personal tragedies and possible horrors that sharpen the mettle of children and those watching from up close, something that trains those schooled in it in a very special way. Consider again, in neighbouring Sri Lanka, a Sirimavo Bandaranaike or a Chandrika Kumaratunga who have seen and undergone miseries which are the stuff of screenplays, something that earned them their place in the power matrix, family, history, tragedy and personal fortitude all mixed in a way that detangling them is not always possible or recommended.

The problem is not that children of leaders cannot do what their parents did. To suggest that is unconstitutional. But what subverts the spirit of this great democracy is when the only problem confronting leaders seems to be to secure their kin a foothold.

Several of us laughed cynically when there were reports of laptops being used to evaluate the winnability of ticket-seekers before decisions were taken. But, in retrospect, there was something promising in the whirring of the hard-disk as it chose somewhat randomly. The certainty of some of the choices made in the most recent ticket distribution could not be filling anyone with much hope.

Sent from my phone so please excuse any possible typos that this Windows phone almost always catches. But then, we all are mistake prone humans!

Subject :- “The chosen ones” dated September 28, 2009.

Dear Ms. Chishti.

I read your article with great interest and identification as I may be potentially bunched in the obnoxious group of “The Chosen Ones!”

However, a little background would be in order.

Till the completion of my education, I was living in the protected fish-bowl that is the wont of ‘peoplelikethem’. From my birth to age 15, I lived with my Grandfather while he served as Governor of two states, meeting and seeing all the dignitaries that are regular feature of any Raj Bhawan. At the age of 16, I moved to my parent’s house and continued the protected life. My father (a chosen one? Yes.) was a Minister in Haryana and joining politics could have been an obvious and easy career option then, while still in college. However, the urge to discover myself and work like The Common Man took me to working as a Sales Representative for Times of India in New Delhi, an Assistant Manager in a remote Tea Plantation in Kerala, MNCs like IBM and Dell, and latest as an Operations’ Manager with ICICILombard General Insurance in Gujarat.

I have lived my adult life as any other Aam Aadmi, working with and upholding the values that were ingrained by my Grandfather. All this while, I have known and felt the cruel pinch of the shoecalledlife at all the relevant spots. For instance, just to make things a bit easier in my own way, I made all my domestic helpers Computer literate. I have proved to be a bread earner like any other Aam Aadmi, while queuing up for the metaphorical and, at times, literal busticket.

Is it my pedigree that qualifies me as ‘a chosen one’ who saps the traditional essence of a political party? Even if we consider the theory that though my desire to join politics under the guild-system cannot be legitimately challenged, it is still something that is ‘just-not-proper’. Along with it, I do understand the anxiety about handing over the ‘keys to the door that leads to the throne’ while the Big Patriarch/Matriarch is still alive and kicking the opposition around and about and that is, indeed, a troubling concept. And I am against it.

However, if someone like I, who has seen it from both sides of the Minister’s BIG office table and Policemanned big-irongates, shouts one fine day, ENOUGH! Let Another ‘Mr Shourie’ be the P.I.L. champion and knock-knoch the doors, I have the opportunity to join and meet THEM and Com’on, Let’s Do It.

I shall get the Surface Transport Minister to do ‘something’ about all the bus stands that have lights in on 24X7. I could tell him, during our “dinner conversation” to get L.D.R. systems installed on all such establishments and more so that the lights go off automatically at dawn. To have 50% Women (Womyn) only buses, manned/operated by women on educational institute routes, during the peak hours and I shall , by surprise raids, make bloddy sure that it all is running as it should. I am crazy enough to do it, as was my father.

Am I wrong in harbouring such political ambitions? Do I too, consider myself in the coterie of “The Chosen Ones”?

This is my slightly vehement feedback to your soul-stirring article that FORCED me to write this all up.

Yours truly,

Rahul Sharma.

Yamunanagar. Haryana. 135001. INDIA.
Ph. +91 93545 (Rahul)

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