Assembly Elections 2017: Comment

The Fiefdom Struggle

Rev Dr Valson Thampu is the former principal of St Stephen’s College, University of Delhi
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The patricide in Lucknow is good for democracy

IN LUCKNOW, THE father and son are locked in a parivar war, with aftershocks felt in Delhi and elsewhere. Some are sad, and some, salivating, depending on the camps they follow. Fortunately, who is worried and who is salivating do not have to be specified. Political secrets are like brawls in the marketplace.

I see the Lucknow muddle differently. This churning could be a gain for Indian democracy. It could signal the decline of dynastic politics and hand-me-down leaderships.

Of course, Akhilesh became Chief Minister by birth. He is not alone in this charmed circle of those born with silver spoons in their mouths. (Some, indeed, with gold spoons in all orifices.)

At least half of the Indian political turf is occupied by dynastic squatters. Their only eligibility is that they were clever enough to choose the right wombs to be conceived in. What a splendid exercise of pre-natal crystal-ball gazing!

The eugenics folly of dynastic politics needs to be reckoned. Even an undergraduate will tell you that inbreeding results in a gradual enfeeblement of the stock. Exogamy makes better sense than endogamy. (Parsis are a heart-breaking illustration. What a national loss that this amazingly talented people-group is fading out.) This scientific principle applies to political parties as well.

From Jawaharlal Nehru, through Indira Gandhi, via Rajiv-Sonia to Rahul, a clear pattern can be discerned. How will you measure the distance from Pandit Nehru to Rahul Gandhi? I love Rahul, as a human being, even above Nehru, whom I know only as a character in history. But I love Nehru’s Congress a thousand times more than Rahul’s Congress. The party suffers from deficient vitality because of political inbreeding.

The obvious outcome of such inbreeding or dynastic preference is the exclusion of talents and merits, and the ascendancy, in many cases, of enfeebled mediocrity. It is suicidal when this happens in times of crisis and epochal moments.

When Gandhi said that a thousand windows should open to fresh possibilities from all around, he was expressing his scientific temper without making a song and dance about it. We pay lip-service to scientific temper and do scientifically the most senseless and regressive things.

The tussle between Mulayam—once an expert wrestler— and his son, trying to emerge as a political wrestler, is a very welcome thing.

It illustrates the unviability of dynasty as a principle of stability in politics. The temptation to drag ineligible and ill-suited characters into the cut-throat world of politics arises out of distrust as a way of doing politics. You can trust only your own kith and kin. Allow anyone else to come in, or come up, and you invite a knife to your own throat.

Now, that may be true, but it is not a democratic outlook. It is a tribal fixation. Family as the sole repository of trust and security is the essence of tribalism. Democracy superseded tribalism by countering kin with citizen, imbued with loyalties and commitments extending beyond the family. Family yielded to city, facilitating the birth and growth of citizens.

Metaphorically, this is Akhilesh’s political ‘killing-the-father’ moment. He has no future if he does not emerge from his father’s shadow. The good thing is he knows it, and is willing to bite the bullet

Citizen is an individual. Kin is a family unit, with exclusive loyalties and interests. Family, while it has many strong and valuable aspects, has a besetting evil, especially in the Indian context. The admixture of family- and-kinship ties with governance breeds nepotism. Family is the root of corruption in India. (This explains why Modi’s image as a brahmachari appeals to the masses.)

We have heard a lot about how harmful the religion-politics nexus is to the national cause. Far more dangerous and perverse is the nexus between family and politics. We can count on our fingers the number of politicians among the present horde who rise above their families and think of the country.

If what we have arrived at holds, Hindutva as parivar politics, or politics with a religious community as family, is incompatible with the idea of democracy based on citizenship and equal rights to all. It cannot, in principle, harmonise with the ethos and genius of the Constitution of India, though the Supreme Court has opined otherwise in the past.

Western literature posits the theme of ‘killing the father’. Patricide is deemed a necessary step to a person’s becoming a full- fledged individual. I am not wholly comfortable with this theory. (Lo, I betray my Indian bias!) But I do see the point.

Metaphorically, this is Akhilesh’s political ‘killing-the-father’ moment. Or, it is the critical moment of his political rebirth. Will he, won’t he, be ‘twice-born’, this time as an authentic political leader? He has no future—Is Rahul listening?—if he does not emerge from his father’s shadow. The good thing is that he knows it, and is willing to bite the bullet.

This is rendered all the more imperative because his father, though one in person, has three shadows: himself, Shivpal and Amar Singh. What is poor Akhilesh to do if his father, MSY, confesses in public that he could dodge jail only with Amar’s help? Think of the trauma such a statement can cause to any son. I would feel ashamed of my father, if he were to say, ‘But for Mr Canis Aureus, I would have been behind bars.’ For this alone, I would set fire to Mr Canis Aureus’ tail and drive him out of sight.

It is important, hence, that Akhilesh fares well in the forthcoming elections. The one sensible thing Rahul is doing is to help Akhilesh along in this process. But I doubt if he understands the situation in this light. If he does, he will enter this process without a bargaining chip on his shoulder. The Congress needs to be clear about what it wants to achieve. How to achieve it. And be willing to pay what it takes to achieve it. This is not the time to count peanuts.

For the sake of Indian democracy, I wish Akhilesh success in pulling off this gamble of a lifetime. His setback will be more than a personal loss. It will abort an overdue paradigm shift in politics.