Indian Politics Still Very Much A Family Business

Apr 21, 2014
Originally published on April 21, 2014 2:52 pm

For most of its independence, India’s politics has been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, a family that has given the country three prime ministers.

The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder looks at why, despite being a flourishing democracy for more than six decades, Indian politics is still very much a family business.

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  • Sanjoy Majumder, India correspondent for BBC News. He tweets @BBCSanjoyM.
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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

And for most of its independence, India's politics has been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has given that country three prime ministers. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder looks at why despite being a flourishing democracy for more than six decades Indian politics is still very much a family business.

SANJOY MAJUMDER: We've just entered a village in Central India, and everyone is crowding around a young man as he gets out of his vehicle, reaching out to touch him, some are bending in front of him in reverence.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

MAJUMDER: The young man is Jyotiraditya Scindia. He's a government minister and a Congress Party politician who's seeking re-election. He also belongs to one of India's best-known aristocratic families. Back inside his car as we head to the next village, a chance for a quick chat.

JYOTIRADITYA SCINDIA: I am very proud of my family's legacy. It's a legacy of a connect with the people. It's a legacy of development and progress over the last 150 years. Many of the dams and many of many of the infrastructure that you see around was created by my ancestors in this region. But having said that, I firmly believe that I am living in 21st-century India, and I believe that it is your work that must count for yourself.

MAJUMDER: He is fighting from a family stronghold that once voted for his grandmother. So even if he stresses his modern identity, for most, it's his lineage that matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through translator) For us, he is our king, and he'll always remain our king.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Through translator) He's won three times from here. Before that, his father won and before that, his grandmother. And even this time, he will win handsomely.

MAJUMDER: India's not new to political dynasties. The most influential one is the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has given the country three prime ministers, including the first, Jawaharlal Nehru. His great grandson, Rahul Gandhi, is leading the Congress Party in these polls.

MANINI CHATTERJEE: It is become a norm that everybody is becoming a family fiefdom. Young people...

MAJUMDER: Political commentator Manini Chatterjee explains why Indians love dynasties so much.

CHATTERJEE: You know, because of the feudal - under feudalism, under free modern societies, it was normal. You know, the whole idea of monarchy comes from that. Though India, we have been a formal democracy for over 60 years, and we've been a very vibrant democracy. But we are a 65-year old nation supplanted on a 5,000-year-old country. So things are not going to disappear overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)

MAJUMDER: It's a culture that's spreading. In the eastern state of Bihar, which is one of India's poorest, a new political dynasty is one the rise.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)

MAJUMDER: I'm walking through the narrow, congested lanes of a slum in Patna, the capital of Bihar. A small crowd of supporters are chanting the name and following the candidate for this constituency, Misa Bharti. She's making her political debut. She stops to join hands in greeting, bending forward to meet young children and the women who seem particularly excited to see her. She is, after all, the daughter of one of Bihar's most famous politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (Foreign language spoken).

MAJUMDER: Her father, Lalu Yadav, is one of Bihar's most famous politicians, a socialist leader with a formidable following among poor, low-caste voters. In these polls, he's fielding his wife as well as his daughter, who sees nothing wrong with the move.

MISA BHARTI: (Through translator) This is certainly not dynastic politics. This is merely sacrifice and service for the people.

MAJUMDER: India is now voting for a new parliament. But will it truly represent the world's largest democracy, or simply resemble a privileged club whose entry is determined by one's birth?

YOUNG: The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in India. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.