Sunday, May 31, 2009

AFTER 62 YEARS, THE RAJ IS BACK IN A NEW AVATAR

Jawahar Lal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, will always be remembered for giving the priceless gift of democracy to India. The first general elections of 1952 marked India's real break from not only from its colonial past but also from the long rule of its many rajas and nawabs. For the first ever time in India's history, its citizens exercised the their power to choose and discard their rulers through the power of their vote. In effect, Nehru made ordinary Indians the real sovereigns of this nation.

That is what it would have been today had Nehru not allowed his paternal feelings to overtake his better senses, to plant the seeds of a new Indian "Raj". When he chose to groom his daughter Indira Gandhi to rise and wield disproportionate power in the Congress party in his lifetime, just because she was his daughter, he unknowingly struck the first death-blow to the then fledgling democracy and paved the way for new "princely states" to rise and flourish again in free India.

62 years after the British left and 59 years after India became a democratic republic, the Raj is back, in a new avatar.

At the national level, democracy died within the Congress party many years ago when Nehru's daughter formalised dynastic succession and placed the Nehru-Gandhi family above and beyond the party and even the nation. Her declaration of Emergency in 1975 to hold on to the PM's chair despite a court order striking down her election, her promoting her son Sanjay and, after his death, Rajiv, to succeed her, struck a knife into the very heart of the democratic process. In two strokes, she converted her family into the new Royal Family of India and turned the Congress party into a pliant tool whose sole purpose was to keep it in pole position, no matter what. What Nehru had started, Indira completed.

That tradition is now so firmly in place that hardly any one questions this blatant subversion of democracy these days. On the contrary we have countless courtiers who keep reminding us every single day that it is the divine right of the Gandhis to rule India and that the rest of over a billion people must not only accept that fact without murmur but also be grateful for it.

The recently held Lok Sabha elections have, not surprisingly, thrown up the often overlooked fall-out of the dynastic tradition put in place by the Gandhis. That cancer has, as it had to, spread to the whole nation now. For once, Vir Sanghvi has got disturbed by this development. Of course, thanks to long years of supplication to the Gandhis, he still is not able to see them as the fountainhead and foremost perpetrators of this debilitating turn. Nevertheless, despite all his limitations, he has made a beginning, no matter how late.

In a column in the Hindustan Times of May 31, 2009, Sanghvi laments the fact that a disturbing proportion of the newly-appointed ministers were born into political families. This dynastic trend, he notes, is not limited to the Congress party alone and rightly says that once politics becomes entirely a family business, it will become even more disconnected from the people. "Family dominated politics is a closed shop...true democracy is replaced by a kind of feudalism in which the peasants are given the right to choose between various aristocrats. The peasants can never enter the ruling class because the wrong blood flows in their veins", Sanghvi observes ominously, and quotes Neerja Choudhary to warn that if things continue like this, "within five years we would become a self-perpetuating dynastic elite".

Is this development sudden? Have we all not seen it coming for a long time? When the self-appointed Royal Family of India has been practicing this for decades and even aggressively promoting smaller princely families within the Congress party, is it any surprise that this cancer has now spread to the whole polity, save the Left and, to some degree, the BJP?

Despite this staring-in-your-face evidence, Vir Sanghvi cannot bring himself to criticise the pre-eminent position that Rahul Gandhi occupies due to his birth alone. On the contrary, he praises him for trying to "democratise entry into the Congress" and says that if he "can make Indian politics more representative, less dependent on dynasty and more open to those with talent", it will be watershed in our history. Read that again. How can Rahul make it "less dependent on dynasty"?

A parasitic creeper that has a huge tree in deathly embrace cannot be killed by lopping off a few of its branches. That will not save the host, in this case India's democracy. The parasite has to be pulled out of its very roots and burnt. You cannot place one family and one prince above all scrutiny and expect that the rest will agree to become commoners without a whimper. Who gave tickets to all these family politicians who are now on the verge of swamping the Congress? Who has now given ministerial berths to them? Can any one argue with their hand on their heart that Sonia Gandhi favours family dynasties while Rahul wants "peasants" as ministers?

This so-called "democracy" that Rahul Gandhi is ushering into the Congress is no more than a variant of the democratic sham that the British had introduced to humor and inflate the egos of a few Indians, and then use them to perpetuate their Raj. Rahul's exercise similarly places him and his family on a pedestal completely beyond reach of everyone else. It also does not upset the pecking order of other political princes lower down the order. All that is does is that it allows a few "peasants" to compete with each other to reach somewhat higher positions where they can become more visible to the Crown Prince who can then pick a few of them every now and then and give them an entry into the exclusive club of lower placed dynastic families. By doing so, he hopes to earn their everlasting gratitude and, at the same time, keep the existing minor royal families on their toes and within their limits.

The other ugly aspect that has come to the forefront in this election is that it has attracted a large number of very rich individuals who have fought and even won elections. This is the lot that missed the first dynastic wave and has now decided to start one of its own. They have the means to buy entry into any political party. Once inside, not only will they multiply their riches many times faster, now that politics has become big business, but will also be able to start their own lineage.

The political club is, therefore, already all but closed to ordinary people. Democracy, which is meant to empower people, has become the handmaiden of a privileged few. Till August 15, 1947, India had one ruling family that was based in London and hundreds of princely states who "ruled" over large parts of the country under British suzerainty or paramountcy. 62 years on, the wheel has nearly turned full circle. India again has one ruling family, based in Delhi, and many smaller princely families ruling various states and/or sharing the central pie through 543 "princes" chosen democratically by the peasants of India.

If one goes by the Rahul mania that is being created by the media and the dynastic character of the Union council of ministers, there is little doubt that India is sliding inexorably into the vice-like grip of a self-perpetuating dynastic clique. The way things are heading, there is no way Indians can democratically empower themselves like the Americans did last year when they sent a certain Barack Obama, a half-black from nowhere, into the White House.

Obama represents real democracy at its best. For an Obama to happen in India, all routes that lead to and perpetuate dynastic rule have to be ruthlessly cut. The rot started from the very top and it is only from there that its elimination has to begin. Cosmetic tinkering will yield no result. If Rahul Gandhi is actually serious about undoing the damage that his ancestors have done to the democratic process within the Congress and without, he has to totally remove himself and his family from the political landscape of the nation. He cannot talk of democracy while smothering it at the same time with his dynastic pre-eminence that is beyond the pale of examination. All those who overlook this basic truth which stares the nation in the face are just passing time and being plain dishonest.

Look at the irony. At a time when Nepal has removed its king and Bhutan's king has started the process of handing power over to the people, India has accelerated its regressive descent into dynastic Raj. And in the vanguard of this decay is India's supposedly liberal and modern media, and its so-called intelligentsia.

Related Reading:Women's Bill: empowering gharanas, not women
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2. Baba raga become a symphony
3. Tarun Tejpal: extra God and the devil
4. I love Rahul Gandhi - because nepotism rules :D
5. 'Change' is coming to the sub-continent too!