DYNASTIES are generally associated with monarchies. And until fairly recently, most monarchies were absolutist. Only those which were able to adjust to democracy survived as constitutional monarchies, like the British, still much loved by its people.
Others have met sticky ends, such as the Bourbons of France and the czars of Russia. Yet another bit the dust recently: Gyanendra Shah of Nepal, the descendant of a proud line of Shah kings going back 240 years. He was forced out of office by a popular revolt, followed by an election, becoming an ordinary citizen, with the country turning into a republic.
Didn’t Shakespeare warn, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown?” However, plenty of uncrowned dynasties abound, mostly in Asia, but some elsewhere as well.
There were the Kennedys, a glamorous but tragic family, with two brothers, one of them a president, falling to assassins’ bullets, while one of their sons died in a plane crash, and a fourth Kennedy – Edward – was recently diagnosed with a malignant tumour in his brain.
Equally tragic have been the Gandhis/Nehrus of India and the Bhuttos of Pakistan, details of which readers are only too familiar with.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, two women, Khaleda and Hasina, widow and daughter of slain leaders, have taken turns in being at the helm though the military has rudely pushed them aside, temporarily one hopes.
In Sri Lanka, the Bandaranaike family, husband Solomon (also assassinated), widow Sirimavo, and daughter Chandrika, have virtually monopolised their island nation’s leadership, one after the other.
In Myanmar, a bunch of thuggish and incompetent army generals have been in charge for several years, while the lady whom the people look up to, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, languishes in house detention. Her revered father, too, led his people until his death – yes, you guessed it – at the hands of an assassin.
In Indonesia, there was the elected head, Megawati Sukarnoputri, whose Sanskrit name gives the game away: ‘Putri’ means daughter and Sukarno was Indonesia’s founding father. Another family dynasty.
Further afield, we have Raul Castro, brother of the charismatic and colourful – and ailing – Fidel, effectively taking over the reins of power, while in Syria, Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father, as did Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. No democracy in any of these three countries, yet family rule prevails.However, it is my country, India, that naturally fascinates me more, where political dynasties are so numerous that they are virtually falling over themselves. Rahul Gandhi, the Italian-born Sonia’s son, is already referred to as ‘Yuvraj’ (prince), though he has shown his distaste for this appellation. Most observers of the Indian scene feel that his sister, Priyanka, is smarter and has more charisma – she also bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, Indira Gandhi – but Sonia has preferred she remain a housewife, for now at least. Perhaps she is being kept in reserve, should Rahul fail.
In the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, the articulate Omar Abdullah belongs to the third generation of Kashmiri politicians. His grandfather was the legendary ‘Lion of Kashmir’, Sheikh Abdullah, and his father, Farooq Abdullah, was also a chief minister of the state but who has never been able to shake off his reputation as a playboy and dilettante.
Down south at the other end of India, in Tamil Nadu, there are the Karunanidhis, the father being the present chief minister, a post he has often held in the past, while his two sons, one of whom carries the outlandish name of Stalin, and daughter are being groomed for high office.
In Maharashtra, the Muslim-baiting leader of the fascist Shiv Sena, Bal Thackeray, has designated his son, Udhav, as his successor, resulting in his disappointed nephew, Raj, angrily breaking away, forming a separate ‘Sena’ and trying to outdo his uncle in narrow, violent chauvinism.
As for Karnataka, no less than three sons of Deve Gowda, a former chief minister of the state – and also, mercifully for a short time, prime minister of India – control the Janata Dal party which was earlier in power but fortunately got a drubbing in a recent state election.
There are also the Badals of Punjab, the Chautalas of Haryana and the Patnaiks of Orissa, among other dynastic political families.
What does all this show? Basically, that India remains a badly flawed democracy. In true democracies, power is not handed down in such shameless nepotistic fashion and voters are not fooled so easily.
Winston Churchill and de Gaulle, towering leaders of their respective nations, had no sons or daughters succeeding them. Of course, there have been Bush senior and Bush junior and now Hillary Clinton trying to emulate her husband (and failing). But they are the exceptions.
The other reasons for family rule are power and money – and the two are usually linked by corruption, certainly in India, probably in many other developing countries, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well. You don’t trust handing over power and money, especially if it is ill-gotten, to anybody but family.
The writer is a former editor of the Reader’s Digest and Indian Express.
Source: Daily Dawn, 9th June, 2008