In a recent panel on the Indian elections, dynastic politics was brought up as a consistent theme. I decided to dig a little deeper and see how pervasive this phenomenon is. I looked at state, party and age segregated data on hereditary MPs. I then discuss why the trends aren’t that surprising and what they tell us about social mobility in India. As always, click on the graphs to get an enlarged view.
Please keep in mind that the data is skewed by the number of seats which each state has in the Lok Sabha. Thus, while all of Lakshwadeep’s MPs are hereditary it is important to note that Lakswadeep has a single seat in the Lok Sabha. Patrick French collected some incredible data which I used for my post. There is more great data here if you want to explore a little further.
State Level Data on Hereditary MPs
It is fairly clear that political aspirations are tied to family connections, especially if you are young. Not a single MP under 30 is from a non-political family. This speaks to certain resources necessary for political campaigning; resources which only families or age can deliver. In absolute terms, Congress is clearly the front runner in promoting dynastic politics. The biggest victim of this trend is the Congress party itself. Experts have long recognized the party’s failure to build state cadres and its over-reliance on family politics. The Congress has consistently failed to develop its state leaders and is too eager to foster Nehru-Gandhi sycophancy. This is a crucial reason for the Congress’s decreasing national support base and weak party structure. Perhaps a resounding defeat in the Parliamentary elections will force the party to rethink its structure. It is also clear that the Congress isn’t the only party pursuing dynastic politics. Regional parties are consistently doing worse and even the BJP has a notoriously large family quota.
Most worryingly, this trend weakens the quality of India’s representative system. This is akin to a monarchy where state leaders inherit their position, not earn it. However, it would seem that a lot of Indians are not troubled by this. The Lok Foundation Survey discovered that 46% of respondents preferred candidates from political families. A key reason for this support was the belief that family politicians are trained for this industry and should therefore be more competent.
When we look at other spheres of Indian society, this trend seems less startling. Be it the Kapoors in Bollywood or the Tatas in business, all of India’s industries seem to possess a ruling family. India’s best known companies are either family owned or state owned. Yes, there are a few exceptions but they are a precious few. This speaks to a lack of social mobility within Indian society. Despite the dawn of political and economic modernity, Indian society seems eager to perpetuate certain feudal hierarchies. Viewed in light of this larger trend, dynastic politics shouldn’t be a huge surprise. After all, our politics is only a reflection of our society.