By Rasananda Panda, Ms. Shreya Biswas, Prashanta Chandra Panda*, August 22, 2016 : In democracy, the people are supposed to be supreme.  However, dynastic politics, usually presumed to be the antithesis of democracy, is a routine aspect of politics in many modern democracies. The roots of dynastic politics lie at least in part in modern democratic institutions – states and parties – which give political families a leg-up in the electoral process. Even United States of America is no exception. Political dynasties reinforce a level of inequality in access to political influence over the voters. Even today, dynasties thrive in the largest democratic country like India, Middle East, some European countries, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, North Korea etc.

The table below will give a glimpse of the dynasties around the world and those that are present in the Indian politics..

Instances of Dynastic Rule in a Democratic Set Up
Foreign Countries Examples
United States In the US despite there being a strong belief that all men are equal and hence have equal rights, yet there has been strong dynasties like the Kennedy dynasty and the Bush dynasty and now the Clinton, but it can never match the depth of Indian family ties (“Family ties: why political dynasties rule in America’s democracy”, 2015)
North Korea In North Korea there is no dynasty and it is purely the blood line that matters. The Kim John dynasty has been ruling it forever (Myers, 2014)
Bangladesh Bangladesh too has its share of dynasty in the form of dynasty of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman whose daughter Sheikh Hasina is the current Prime Minister. Even the opposition is led by the wife of the slain military ruler Ziaur Rahman(Amundsen, 2013)
Pakistan Pakistan like India has its share of Bhuttos  and Sharifs who have their own legacy of dynastic rule,  though in Pakistan it is still the military who rules the roost (“Dailytimes | Dynamics of dynastic politics in Pakistan”, 2016)
Srilanka In Sri Lanka the Bandaranaike family also has its history of dynastic politics, but now it has slipped into oblivion. The children of the last of Bandaranaike Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga have no interest in politics (Subramanian, 2014).
India or States Examples
Congress, India This is the epitome of all dynastic politics right from Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru to Mr. Rahul Gandhi, this dynasty has ruled our country either directly or indirectly for 47 years during our 68 years of independent India  (“Rahul Gandhi’s coronation as Congress president a perfect example of ‘dynastic politics’: BJP”, 2016)
Akali Dal , Punjab In Punjab the Akali Dal is a family run affair (Badals) and they say this is so because people trust them and they have credibility (Mandhana, 2014)
Samajwadi Party, UP Samajwadi party is again another party that has become the epitome of dynastic politics. In total it has 11 elected representatives (“Samajwadi Party becomes the largest political family in Uttar Pradesh”, 2016).
BJD, Congress Odisha Former Chief Minister Biju Patanaik, his son Mr. Naveen Patnaik as examples of chief minister positions. Former Chief Minister Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, his son  AU Singh Deo, AU’s son Kalikesh Narayan Singh , former  Chief Minister Nandini Satpathy’s son Tathagata Satpathy, former Chief Minister  Nilamani Routray and  son Bijayshree Routray.
Haryana In Haryana the dynastic politics is led by INLD chief Mr. Omprakash Chautala. So deep was his desire to retain power that he decided to fight from jail and wanted to become a Chief Minister in absentia.
DMK, Tamil Nadu The DMK of Tamil Nadu is another example of dynastic politics at its pinnacle despite the fact that it is this dynasty that is now pulling it down with constant infighting among the members of the (Karunanidhi) family.
PDP, NCP, Jammu and Kashmir In Kashmir the two prime political parties, both National Conference and PDP has dynasty at their helm. Mehbooba  Mufti the current Chief Minister is the daughter of Mufti Mohammed Syed the ex – chief minister and Omar Abdullah of the NCP belongs to the famous Abdullah family.
NCP, Shiv Sena, Maharashtra In Maharashtra too the Sharad Pawar has brought in both his nephew Ajit Pawar as well as his daughter Ms. Supriya Sule in active politics. The Shiv Sena another important political force in Maharashtra too has been in the hands of the Thackreys right from its inception. Looking at the grooming it seems that it will remain so for a time period.
RJD, Bihar Continuing the same trend in Bihar too the RJD has become a symbol of dynastic politics with Tejaswai Yadav taking on the reigns from his father Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav. Previously too when he was forced to step down he coroneted Mrs. Rabri Devi as a pseudo Chief Minister and ruled on her behalf (Ojha, 2015).
NTR, Andhra Pradesh This is one of the most glaring example of how dynasty still matters. Mr. Chandrababu Naidu who once fought his father tooth and nail to oppose his coronation of his son as the TDP chief is now grooming his own son Nara Lokesh to take over the reins of TDP (Radhakrishna, 2016)
Gowdas, Karnataka Examples are H D Deve Gowda and his son HD Kumaraswamy.


Hate it or Love it, but can’t ignore Dynastic Politics

Dynastic politics is quite visible in the South East Asian countries. In India there is hardly any state that does not have its dynasty. Therefore the cacophony about Ms. Priyanka Gandhi being the chief campaigner for Congress in UP election in the recent past is understandable. Everybody from the Congress party to the opposition to the media is constantly commenting something about it, be it positive or negative. On the onset the Congress looks quite enthusiastic about her accepting a more challenging role in the political scenario. Interestingly at the same time it seems that they are divided over hopes. Or else why would they field a reluctant former Delhi Chief Minister Ms. Sheila Dixit as Chief Ministerial candidate?


May be this is simply to hold someone accountable in case of a fiasco. It is justified too looking at the record her other sibling Mr. Rahul Gandhi has. Most important question is why so much obsession around the Nehru – Gandhi dynasty? This is true not only for the Congress but also for all the other parties. Parties simply cannot ignore the dynasty even at a time when it is looking more like a burden rather than an asset. The recent drubbing the Congress party had received in the Lok Sabha elections and the DMK received in Tamil Nadu elections are a proof of that. Apart from this there has been sibling rivalry in the DMK compelling the patriarch to still project himself as the Chief Ministerial candidate though he is 93 years of age.

But still the lure of dynasty has not shown any signs of withering. Despite all the negative vibes and his track record of incompetent the Congress party cannot let go Mr. Rahul Gandhi.  Fall back on the dynasty for a very long time has wiped out any alternate thinking. To add more credence to the notion a SWOT analysis can be done on the dynastic rule. The analysis will be carried out from the rein of Mrs. Indira Gandhi as during the first time she became Prime Minister by default.

Political Analysis for Congress Dynasty in the Centre



Time Period  January 24, 1966 – March 24, 1977, Mrs. Indira Gandhi


Strength Weakness Political events reinforcing dynasty
She was the daughter of our first Prime Minister and the granddaughter of Mr. Motilal Nehru. Therefore she had an impeccable political lineage. Became Prime Minister by default as the other leaders of the Congress could not decide on a name after the untimely death of Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri though she won the 1971 general election subsequently. The implementation of state of emergency and her efforts to stifle all dissident voices went against her. Numerous contenders of Prime Minister emerged after the untimely death of Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri and hence they fell back on the dynasty and Mrs. Indira Gandhi was chosen. The huge victory for India against Pakistan in the 1971 consolidated her rule and she won a landslide electoral victory. She became a popular choice with the popular slogan of “Garibi Hatao”.
January 14, 1980 –  October  31, 1984 : PM Mrs. Indira Gandhi
Strength Weakness Political events reinforcing dynasty
The coalition Janta Party that trounced her in the 1977 general elections fell to internal squabble again leaving the Indian National Congress as the only alternative. Rise of the Sikh extremism led by Jarnail Singh Bindranwale who unleashed terror on moderate Sikhs and Hindus. To curb terrorism Operation Blue Star was ordered. The army entered the holiest shrine of the Sikhs “The Golden Temple”. Operation Blue Star led to her assassination by her Sikh body guards and a huge wave of sympathy for her and her family.
October 31, 1984 to December 2, 1989: PM Mr. Rajiv Gandhi
Strength Weakness Political events reinforcing dynasty
Only surviving child of the assassinated Prime Minister and therefore had a huge sympathy wave with him. Not a popular public figure and also his governance skill have never been tested. After the initial honeymoon period got over there was huge resentment as a result of a number of scams the most famous of them being the Bofors scam. The untimely death of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and the huge wave of sympathy led to quick elevation of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi beating veterans like Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Sharad Pawar.
May 22, 2004 – May 26, 2014: PM Dr. Manmohan Singh
Strength Weakness Political events reinforcing dynasty
The dynasty led by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, could consolidate its position without accountable for governance.  Mr. M. Singh, an economist was never a popular choice and only a Rajya Sabha member. People could see through this dual power centre especially during UPA II. The period was marked by many scams leading to a rout of the Congress party in the general election. In fact there was a wave against dynastic rule of any type. Despite a good financial record and being hugely popular Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee paid a big price for the Gujarat riots. A few wrong choices in making alliances resulted in major electoral setbacks. The public expressed faith in the coalition led by Ms. Sonia Gandhi. However her not taking charge and running the government through remote control led to huge loss of credibility and to the rout of her party in 2014 general elections



Coalition of Dynasties at the Centre, Centre and State, Inter State and Intra State level

In order to consolidate their position sometimes there is also coalition among the dynasties. One such example is that of the marriage between Lalu Prasad Yadav’s youngest daughter, Rajlakshmi and the grand nephew of Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav,  Mr. Tej Pratap Yadav (India Today, 2014). Apart from this close spatial distance between the ancestral villages of two powerful families are also seen as a reason to form a coalition. The Chautalas and the Badals are an example of this. Since Om Prakash Chautala is in jail in connection with the teachers’ recruitment scam the onus of campaigning was given a boost by Mr. Prakash Singh Badal. In many places he campaigned against the BJP his ally in Punjab. Similar nexus could not be sustained between Mulayam’s and Lalu’s family. We have many such examples of coalitions; it is still the Gandhi dynasty that rules the roost in Indian politics. No other dynasty has been able to over throw its command.

The obsession surrounding the dynasty may have many reasons. The moot question is whether political hegemony or economic factors contribute to the overall well – being of the country. Out of 68 years of independent India, 47 years had dynastic rules either directly or indirectly like the Congress or Congress led UPA I and UPA II regime. Is this because of conscious decisions the voters despite the limitations in their choices?  Number of elections (State, Parliaments, By-elections, Municipality and Panchayats) they are subjected to, is definite to make them vote for easily recalled faces for their historical associations. Voters may not be able to recall many of the contestants at the pooling booth. Dynasty survives when they promote allied dynasties at the state level and other level and take care of their interests. This curtails promotion of new leadership or threats new emerging faces at the state level. Dynasty feeds on the networks that are created to strengthen the lobby. Well you can say entry barriers are created, a level which is very hard to overcome.

Besides, economic pointers are the most valid parameters for reinstatement or continuation of a regime/ dynasty in a democratic country. For this we made a look at the economic health of the country. Economic data indicators from Economic Survey, Handbook of Indian Statistics, Budget document and different government reports from 1975–76 to 2014-15 was analysed. This is  mapped against various economic parameters like GDP growth rate, Total Expenditure, the share of the Revenue and Capital Expenditure in it, the role of subsidies in it, the financing of the subsidies etc.

*To be continued ………..

*(Rasananda Panda is Professor of Economics, Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, Prashanta Chandra Panda is currently Professor of Economics, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar and Ms. Shreya Biswas is Research Associate at MICA, Ahmedabad)

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of