India is not a family’s private property

A Freudian slip is not quite a slip; it is, more accurately, a freeze-frame  image of a person’s unexpressed beliefs. The fact lies in what was hidden.   There was nothing hidden about Congress heir Rahul Gandhi’s statement in support of all-purpose dynastic inheritance at a campus event in Berkeley. The Freudian bit lay in his seamless connection between public life and private sector corporations to justify his self-serving claim.

His logic began with a propostion. India, said Rahul Gandhi, is run by dynasties, so why pick on him?

Which India is he talking about? If it was political India, then let us take even a  cursory glance at the political map of India in the autumn of 2017. Start with Kerala. It has a Marxist Chief Minister who would laugh quite uproariously if you suggested that he nominate his son or daughter as successor. If he didn’t laugh, his party’s Politburo would make sure that his political career ended in tears.

Neighbours Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have CMs, including one from Congress, who would be quite amazed at the prospect of their progeny becoming natural successors. Both these states, however, do have dynastic regional parties, but at this moment dynasts are not winning  any electoral medals. Of course, we cannot assume that they will never win an election in the future, but what is very visible is a growing trend away from family control of power.

The CMs of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand would be pilloried by their  own party, BJP, if they  entertained any genetic ambitions. Orissa’s Navin Patnaik had a famous father, but has not told his voters that they are going to get a Patnaik for the next hundred years.  UP has a CM who is a yogi, and Bihar’s Nitish Kumar has kept his family scrupulously out of public life.  In Bengal,  Mamata Banerjee’s  nephew is in politics, but she has not anointed him yet. Assam’s CM is a bachelor. Where dynasties exist, in Punjab or UP, they are in opposition. You will have to reach Jammu and Kashmir to find dynasties on both sides of the political equation.

As for Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  his family is absent from the public domain.

The pattern is clear enough. Congress is run by dynasty, not India. Where dynasties do exist, they are a waning fact, nor a rising presence. The centre of political gravity has shifted to governance, and that requires capability.  India wants talent, not a family tree.

Rahul Gandhi was unable to comprehend the essential difference when he tried to justify his own inherited entitlement by noting that the same thing happened in an Ambani empire. A private sector company is the personal property of shareholders, whether they  are a limited family,  expand to millions through the stock exchange or a combination of both.

A nation is not anyone’s private property.

A government is a sacred trust, not an operation run for profit. The difference might be lost on those who believe that power is a means to profit. Such thinking is perhaps the principal explanation for the manner in which, during the dark UPA decade between 2004 and 2014, major financial decisions became vulnerable to middlemen, who shared their loot with those at the top, most often in cash that was squirreled out of the country, and sometimes in kind. Those within the establishment who were not on the take chose to look the other way.

No political party was ever started  as a vehicle for a family. Parties began as instruments of an ideology, or at least a public objective. In our country, families began to hijack parties only in the last quarter of the 20th century. Indian National Congress saw its best days when any leader could become President, and did. Even Mrs Indira Gandhi, who had authoritarian tendencies, preserve the tradition of letting someone else become party President till the 1970s, although she demanded subservience. Witness the memorable proclamation by her nominated President, Dev Kant Barooah, that “Indira is India and India is Indira”. That motif became the obiter dicta. And so if non-family Congress Presidents failed, as they did after Narasimha Rao’s defeat in 1996, they were removed. But the Sonia-Rahul Gandhi family was immune from mere election results.

The virus was quick to infect some non-Congress parties. Giants like Dr Rammanohar Lohia and his peers would not have imagined, in their worst dreams, that the Socialist movement would have been hijacked by families who operated as either an oligarchy or a monarchy.

The strange part is not the dilution, or obliteration, of a fundamental principle, but its absurdity in an age when India is changing faster than perhaps it has ever changed before. I cannot think of a country that has become more democratic in its spirit and functioning as quickly as  21st century India. There is, most of all, democratization of aspiration, a growing conviction that every position is open to anyone who can prove that he or she deserves it.

India’s Age of Enlightenment is directly antithetical to the Age of Entitlement. Those who cannot understand this basic truth are in danger of becoming irrelevant.

(Mobashar Jawed “M.J.” Akbar is an Indian politician who is the Minister of State for External Affairs, and a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, from Madhya Pradesh.)