Dynastic politics is deeply embedded in the political narrative of South Asia, and India is no exception. There are several political dynasties in India, but the Gandhi dynasty bears the brunt of the backlash. The family has ruled India for most of the post-partition period.
Jawaharlal Nehru remained the premier for more than one and a half decades, followed by his daughter Indira, her son Rajiv, and political successor Manmohan Singh, who carried Gandhi’s legacy until the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi assumed power in 2014.
Owing to the replacement of Congress by the BJP, the prevalent perspective was that dynasticism was on its way out of the chambers of authority. But that was not the case, per se. It was because the BJP’s politburo presented itself as a rainbow organization and propagated its aversion for family-based politics and preferential practiced by its political rivals such as Congress, the National Congress Party (NCP), and others. Modi too accentuated his anti-dynastic rhetoric by portraying himself as aloof from the culture of hereditary politics.
However, contrary to the proclaimed narrative, dynastic politics is alive and thriving and the BJP is rapidly subscribing to it. The study conducted by two eminent scholars, Christophe Jeffrelot and Gilles Verniers, in 2019, is worth a salt. It suggests that while Congress, with 31 percent of its candidates hailing from a political family, tops the chart of dynastic parties, the BJP is fast approaching and stands out with 22 percent dynasts. It reveals that the BJP is as dynastic as the Congress, albeit not under the exclusive control of a single family. A similar trend of promoting dynastic politicians was evident in the recent Game of Thrones episode in Maharashtra.
The riveting political upheaval showcased the breakup of Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the doyen of Maharashtra’s realpolitik, Sharad Pawar. Ajit Pawar, in his latest blitz, after flirtatious interactions with the BJP dating back to 2019, along with eight Members of the NCP, landed in the BJP camp. He also proclaimed to have the loyalty of 42 MLAs in his party. In addition to this, several glaring instances underscore the BJP’s course correction toward dynasties.
In the recent 17th Karnataka State elections, the BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai, who served as the Chief Minister of Karnataka from July 2021 to May 2023, was selected as the face of the party. He is the son of the BJP loyalist and former Chief Minister Somappa Rayappa Bommai. Similarly, the current Minister of Education and Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Dharmendra Pradhan, is the son of Vajpayee’s Cabinet Minister, Debendra Pradhan. The list of dynasties in the BJP, inter alia, includes the names of Anurag Thakur, Samrat Choudhary, the son of Shakuni Choudhary, Kiren Rijiju, Vivek Thakur, Neeraj Shekhar, Poonam Mahajan, Ratanjit Pratap Narain Singh (son of Kunwar Chandra Pratap Narain Singh), Jitin Prasada, Pravesh Sharma, Maneka Gandhi, Nirmala Sitharaman, Pema Khandhu, and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
Meanwhile, on the long list of opposition party dynasts recruited by the BJP is Kuldeep Bishnoi, the son of Renuka Bishnoi and former chief minister of Haryana, Bhajan Singh. The trinity of power epitomized by MAY (Modi, Amit, and Yogi) is also not an exception. The son of Amit Shah, Jay Shah, is also bestowed with the position of Secretary of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, whose tenure lasted for 80 hours in 2019 when the NCP withdrew its support, is the son of former BJP MLC Gangadhar Fadnavis. Similarly, Pankaj Singh, who is heading the BJP’s UP unit and is also serving as an MLA, is the son of Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Similarly, Piyush Goyal, who is a known face in Modi’s electoral campaigns and holds many influential portfolios, represents the progeny of the BJP loyalist Ved Prakash Goyal, who served as a minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government. The growing sway of this phenomenon can be hazardous for the party organization, and its cohesion, and can be fatal for the democratic fabric of India for many reasons.
The prevalence of dynasticism leads to the gradual deterioration of political equality and representation. It also impacts the socio-economic outcomes and engenders a decline in democracy within the political parties, influencing the overall democratic efficacy of the country.
Moreover, the phenomenon of skew selection by picking individuals from favorite family fiefdoms reflects unfair representation, thereby narrowing the political class and resulting in the concentration of elites in power arenas. Since the BJP which presents itself as a vocal critic of dynastic politics is exhibiting a dichotomy by condemning dynasticism, yet embracing an expanding cadre of seat-winning dynastic politicians into the folds of the party, it is quite likely that the old order based on political dynasties will persist in the upcoming Lok Sabha 2024 elections.
The author is currently serving as an Assistant Research Associate at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). She holds a degree in MPhil International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She also served in various capacities as a Teaching Assistant at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She Tweets @maryumtaimoor