Foreign and Defense Policy, Asia

Politics in India: The House of the People Becoming a House of Dynasty

I’m reviewing a fascinating book by Patrick French entitled India: A Portrait, which will be out in the United States in June. (You can see my colleague Sadanand Dhume’s review of the book in the Wall Street Journal here.)

In one chapter, French and an ambitious young Indian statistician delve into some data on family politics in India. When we look at the family tree of Indian National Congress’s President Sonia Gandhi or its General Secretary Rahul Gandhi, we immediately see evidence of this phenomenon in India. Sonia is the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, another prime minister. Indira Gandhi’s father was Jawaharlal Nehru, one of India’s founding fathers and its first prime minister. Sonia’s son is Rahul Gandhi.

But French and his colleague find that dynasty politics is a problem far beyond the upper echelons of the Congress Party. In fact, take a look at this fascinating chart, available on French’s website:

Hereditary Ministers of Parliament (MPs) are defined as those politicians who have entered politics primarily through some sort of family connection—taking over a father’s seat, having a brother in politics, etc. French finds that as MPs get younger, the more probable it is that they’re there because of nepotism.

He goes on to show that while hereditary politics is a problem across all parties in India, from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to smaller regional parties, the Indian National Congress is the biggest culprit. Eighty-eight percent of Congress Party MPs under the age of 40 are hereditary.

Rahul Gandhi has openly declared his desire to get more young Indians involved in politics in India. Out of 545 MPs in Parliament, only 66 are under the age of 40. But it doesn’t bode well for aspiring young policy makers when almost the entire cadre of young MPs in Parliament is there because Papa or Mama helped them get there.

French ends his chapter with an incisive statement about Indian democracy:

The Indian republic was founded on the truth that power should not be handed over by the colonial rulers to the princes. India’s [next] general election was likely not to return a Lok Sabha, a house of the people, but a Vansh Sabha, a house of dynasty.

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