• Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ground Realities

Modi and the dynasts

Syed Badrul Ahsan

The good thing about Narendra Modi's ascent to power in India is that he will entertain no ambitions about promoting his family or clan in politics. He recognizes this truth and is in agreement with it. Given the reality of how the Indian National Congress has consistently depended on the Nehru-Gandhis for survival, indeed for a hold on power, it is somewhat cheering to have, finally, a government in Delhi that will not be beholden to a family.
Dynasties, be they monarchical or political, are all too often enervating affairs. Besides, when you speak of particular families endlessly dominating a nation's politics, you are made aware of the grave damage that dynasties do to democratic order. One of the ways in which such damage is caused comes through a rise and consolidation of sycophancy, a most recent instance of which we have seen in the Congress' rejection of the offers of resignation made by the mother-and-son team of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. These two Gandhis, humiliated by the electorate, should have resigned rather than offered to resign. And their party should have demonstrated enough political acumen to convince people that it can do without the Nehru-Gandhis.
Leadership by a family, by the laws of nature, declines in terms of quality with each generation that takes over. North Korea's Kim Il-Sung was a remarkable leader for his people, something you cannot quite say about his rather mediocre son Kim Jong-Il. And today, in Kim Jong-Un, you have madness masquerading as leadership. The young man's intellect is as low as you can get.
In India, now that the Nehru-Gandhis have once again bitten the dust, it is well to ask if the dynasty should have gone beyond Indira Gandhi. Indian democracy was gravely wounded when a callow, Emergency-emboldened Sanjay Gandhi took it upon himself to be the arbiter of India's destiny. He should never have been brought into politics in the first place; and after his tragic death, Mrs. Gandhi ought to have refrained from pulling her elder son Rajiv into the political field.
Rajiv Gandhi's was mediocre leadership, a phase that could have been avoided had Pranab Mukherjee been asked to take over after 31 October 1984. That President Zail Singh ignored Mukherjee, the most senior member of the cabinet at the time, and swore in Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister hours into the assassination of his mother was a politically unwise step. Rajiv Gandhi, by the time he lost the elections in 1989 and then was murdered in 1991, had built no lasting legacy for himself. He was not as smart as his grandfather. Neither was he as shrewd as his mother.
Dynastic politics has clearly stunted the growth of a healthy democratic order in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party made a mistake when, ignoring Justice Abdus Sattar and other senior leaders of the party, it chose to place General Ziaur Rahman's politically naïve widow at the top. Khaleda Zia has since been a galvanizing factor for the BNP, but whether she has been able to inject energy and ideas into the national democratic discourse remains a huge question. If the BNP's move to bring Begum Zia into politics was a mistake, its decision to promote an ill-prepared and subsequently ill-reputed Tareque Rahman as its voice of the future has done it and the country little good. Where General Zia was known for his shrewd cunning, Khaleda Zia has not gone beyond rugged stubbornness. Their son symbolizes worries for the country on a collective scale.
Sheikh Hasina's assumption of the leadership of her party in 1981 and, years later, of the country, was perhaps necessitated by the forces of history. She has always been perceived as Bangabandhu's legitimate successor, despite the many flaws her leadership has come to be associated with. The dynasty should, in the interest of the country, stop with her. Worries begin to arise when patent efforts are made to inform the nation that the young Sajib Wajed Joy could well take charge after his mother. He has been speaking to journalists in phases; has been pronouncing his views on national issues at public rallies. Such endeavours do not promote political pluralism. They seek to prevent the rise of new leaders in the party and across the country.
Dynasties, regularly kept gleaming by sycophants and hangers-on and toadies, keep democracy in a state of comatose. The recent history of the Awami League and the BNP in Bangladesh, the Congress in India and the People's Party in Pakistan is proof. Not every dynast is a Park Geun-hye or Michelle Bachelet. Ahmed Sukarno's daughter Megawati turned out to be pretty mediocre. In America, where the concept of dynasty certainly does not entail a direct promotion of a relative by a family elder, members of the same political family have not quite shown the promise that the founder of the dynasty may once have demonstrated.
Edward Kennedy, though he turned out to be an accomplished senator, could not somehow match the brilliance of his murdered siblings John and Robert. And the children of the Kennedy family, many of whom were to go into politics, fared even poorly. In the Bush family, intellectual brilliance was never a hallmark, but shrewd engineering was. George H.W. Bush was nevertheless derided as a political wimp and served only a single term as president. His son, despite getting two terms in the White House, remained --- and remains --- an ignorant man. He cheerfully set a whole world on fire, through Afghanistan, through Iraq.
Dynasties, being elitist affairs, are bad for the health of any society. The children of successful politicians, as also the children of good media-owning journalists and accomplished artistes, have, with increasing frequency, been imposed on nations. And most of them have been a waste of time and energy.
Narendra Modi has enlightened Indians on the means to be employed to push entrenched dynasties out of political power. People elsewhere can take a leaf out of his book.


The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Last modified: 10:38 pm Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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