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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Family matters

We may rave and rant about dynasty in politics: but we think nothing of building up our own

Are you in the mood to conduct a little social experiment this Sunday? Well, if you are, I have something for you. Ask your friends and family what they hate most about Indian politics. If I am guessing right, then most of the respondents will answer: dynasty.

Strange, isn’t it? There are so many things wrong with Indian politics and our system of governance. There is an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. We claim to be a putative superpower but plead helplessness when it comes to feeding our starving millions with grain that is rotting away in government godowns. Both the Kashmir imbroglio and the Naxalite problem seem to rage on without an end in sight.

Our politicians make money off everything from the Commonwealth Games to arms purchases to the IPL. But it seems that corruption is now so endemic that it does not even occasion comment. So, our politicians are corrupt. Well, yes, and the sky is blue. No need to hold the front page then.

But dynasty? Now, that’s different. That’s the one thing that we middle-class folk can get all worked up about. Why is it that every politician’s son and daughter regards it as his or her god-given right to enter politics? Why do political parties treat parliamentary seats as something that can be passed down from one generation of a family to the other? Isn’t it a shame that we the electorate keep voting in members of the same family again and again? India has always had a slightly feudal mind-set, but frankly, this is ridiculous.

If this goes on for much longer, we mutter ominously, all political power will soon be restricted to a few hundred families who will control all our resources and rule over us with impunity. And soon no outsider will be able to breach the system, no matter how good he or she is. How on earth will our system throw up a Barack Obama-type figure, we wail, when it restricts entry to family members only?

All of this is entirely true. And none of this is good for India. But, as always, there is more to this story.

It is a measure of our hypocrisy as a people that even as we moan and groan about dynasty in politics, we see no contradiction in building up dynasties of our own in our own backyards. In fact, we actually thrive on it, draw pride from it, and treat it as a measure of our success as parents.

Look around you. Chances are that if your friends are lawyers, their children are studying law as well (and will inherit the practice in due course). If they are doctors, then the kids will probably follow them into medicine (and yes, inherit the practice). In the media, too, children tend to follow the lead of their parents, becoming journalists either in print or in television – though, unfortunately, only a handful are lucky enough to inherit a media empire.

And that’s just the professionals. In the world of business, things are even worse. Even if families own a minuscule fraction of the company, it is taken for granted that the children will take over as CEO or MD in due course. With privately-owned companies, the sense of entitlement is even worse. Rare is the Narayan Murthy or Nandan Nilekani, who builds up an empire and does not leave it to his kids.

But dynasties flourish in other areas as well. Films are the most visible example where every hero of yesteryear treats it as matter of macho pride to launch his son in a blockbuster movie (somehow the same macho pride does not extend to the daughters, though).

Look at the film industry today. With the exception of Shah Rukh Khan, every other leading actor is a filmi kid. Salman Khan’s father is Salim of Salim-Javed fame; Hrithik Roshan’s father is former hero Rakesh Roshan; Ranbir Kapoor is the son of Rishi and Neetu Kapoor; Bobby and Sunny Deol are the sons of Dharamendra. Even among the heroines a fair proportion of them are filmi kids: Karisma and Kareena Kapoor, Esha Deol, Kajol, etc.

So, what’s wrong with that, you say. Everybody has the right to choose the profession of their choice. And if it happens to be the profession of their parents as well, so what? They still have to make it on their own terms don’t they?

In the case of the doctors and lawyers, they have to work hard for their qualifications. Journos have to go out looking for jobs like everybody else (though conceivably their parents’ contacts would help – though, if you ask me, it is more likely that they would it hard to find someone Dad hadn’t rubbed up the wrong way). And the industrialists are just leaving what they had built up themselves to their kids.

But if you are going to put forth justifications, you could equally argue that politicians too have to earn their stripes like everybody else. It doesn’t matter how big a minister your Daddy is. You still have to win an election to get into Parliament. It doesn’t matter for how many generations your family has held the same seat. The voters still have to vote for you.

So, honestly speaking, what is the difference? It might be something to think about the next time you feel inclined to rage on about dynasty.


BK Chowla, said...

I tend to disagree with you on this.Dr has to study before he gets qualified to become one . irrespective of his father's profession.A business family puts in it's resources to bring up an organisation and in most of the cases, their children go through a vigorous training before they join business.
What does a politician do except cheat--loot and get elected even he is serving a jail term.
More so ,I think it is the lack of trust now in the politicians that we see them with different colour.

Aashish Sood said...

I guess it is pretty true... butI also feel that one of the reasons why people resent the dynaty thing is politics is because A) If do not have the dynasty connections, chances are you WILL not make it big in politics; and B) It also kind of become monopoly for families in politics quite unlike other families...