Moral of the Trivedi Story: Genetics Beats Cosmetics in Indian Politics
Foreign-educated Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi has learnt a few lessons in domestic realpolitik. Unless one owns a political party, mere degree and pedigree doesn’t make an acceptable leader. Trivedi committed the cardinal mistake of using political symbolism to portray himself as a legitimate reformer without his party’s mandate.
There is a lesson in Trivedi’s sudden rise and fall from grace. And a method too. Family-owned political parties now rule more than two-thirds of India. Some of them have acquired their democratic mandate on the basis of caste or community appeal. A majority of the two dozen-odd regional parties are run by a single leader who had not just conceived the party but came into power, thanks to his personal appeal and caste-backing. Mamata delivered the TMC. Like there is no Congress without the Gandhis, there is no TMC without Mamata. This rule applies to all other regional parties like DMK, AIADMK, NCP, NC, Indian National Lok Dal, Shiv Sena, JMM, Akali Dal, SP and BSP as well. All are extremely inclusive and socially cohesive parties. They co-opt persons from outside their families or caste only on the basis of utility and nothing else. For example, Manpreet Badal, a suave and well-educated relative of the ruling Badal family, thought he could challenge familial hierarchy. Like Trivedi, he marketed himself as Punjab’s most reformist finance minister ever. He was not only ejected from the party, but failed to win a single seat in the recent Assembly polls. In the SP, the once-seemingly infallible Amar Singh was forced to make way for dynastic succession because he challenged family supremacy. He was a powerful Thakur whose mandate was to provide all facilities and resources necessary to turn the SP into a force to reckon with. His utility ended there. He wasn’t a vote- catcher. Period. Now, Akhilesh Yadav has replaced his father Mulayam and has found many more Amar Singhs who can provide similar utilities without posing a threat to his authority. Mulayam never thought twice before catapulting his son to power as Uttar Pradesh’s youngest chief minister. Other members of the Yadav clan had to cave in.
Even in Bihar, both the Rashtriya Lok Dal and Janata Dal (United) appear to be broad- based, but neither have given important party posts to those who don’t conform to their social or caste contours. Members of land-owning backward communities and relatives dominate both parties. Only Rabri Devi can replace Lalu. Former Union minister Prem Gupta will always remain an outsider in RJD even if he is able to deliver all the utilities for his party’s success. Nand Kumar Singh, a former civil servant and a Thakur, has been rewarded with a sinecure in the State Planning Board for services rendered to Nitish Kumar. But he is not an insider yet. Even in West Bengal, former FICCI functionary Amit Mitra was awarded the finance ministry because he was useful in certain areas. But he can’t spend a paisa without his chief minister’s approval.
The south and west are no exceptions. Raj Thackeray was shown the door by uncle Bal Thackeray because he considered himself the logical heir apparent to the Shiv Sena legacy. Shiv Sena is a brand created by Bal Thackeray who thinks it should be inherited only by his son, Uddhav. Only a Pawar can replace Sharad Pawar as successor. Praful Patel will survive as long as he confines himself to his defined role. J Jayalalithaa threw her former confidante Sasikala out of the house because she and her family took over the functioning of the party and government.
As regional satraps and parties consolidate their control over national politics, individuals with egos bloated over academic degrees, elitist social backgrounds and backers of their own kind will find it difficult to survive in the system. They can be the most efficient delivery boys, but they will perish if they try to alter the genetics or biology of political formations.
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