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The dangers of dynastic politics in Maharashtra

October 28, 2009 14:06 IST

The trend of political heavyweights promoting their kin is a dangerous sign for Maharashtra politics, writes Mahesh Vijaypurkar

On the face of it, it is understandable that Ajit Pawar, a long-time MLA and minister in Maharashtra, is miffed at not being elevated to the post of the deputy chief minister.

He is an astute administrator, has developed tremendous resources of all kinds that qualified for one-upmanship in politics as is practiced, and has played a useful role in Sharad Pawar's political scheme of things. Also, he is younger than Chhagan Bhujbal anointed to the top post in Nationalist Congress Party.

However, he is not alone in those qualifications acquired over the years under the benevolent eye of Sharad Pawar. There are a host of considerations as to why one is chosen for a post in a party.

Then what gives weight to his ambition?

In fact, despite his personal capabilities, what made Ajit Pawar what he is?

It is his relationship with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, the uncle. Had that not been the case, he would have not acquired the clout he did for none of his colleagues in the party ever crossed his path. The bloodline counted and that added to his stature. That made him more equal amongst equals.

No wonder he thought that one time or the other, the post would be a given to him.

People in political circles had assumed that it would happen. It was only a matter of time.

In short, it is his place in the Pawar dynasty that mattered.

Hedging of bets

If Sharad Pawar nixed his ambitions this time, perhaps it is the first time ever. As an uncle, Pawar had always been benign to his nephew. At one point of time, Pawar had said, responding to complaints about Ajit's perceived arrogance by saying, "Even if he is born into a Maratha family, he behaves like a cultured Brahmin." This, Ajit's colleagues are not willing to buy even today.

But if people spoke up for him and put him in virtual context against Bhujbal, it was because of the strong assumption that he would one day call the shots. Also, within the party, he is a power centre, regardless of who the NCP president is for Maharashtra. These guys could have even hedged their bets which is important in politics.

That brings us closer to the subject of dynasties. And my fears about the strengthening tendency to accept dynastic rule in Maharashtra.

Dynasts all

Take, for example the agitated response to a TV journalist's query to Rajendra Shekawat, the son of President Pratibha Patil-Shekawat. "I have been in politics from when I was ten years old…I have been active and it is in the family." It is this "in the family" that is a clincher. He actually said it all, contrary to the others who offer justification for dynastic entitlements. The normal arguments is when a doctor's son can be a doctor, and a businessman's son take to the same line, why not a politician's son take to it with similar ease?

This is a stupid way of looking at the issue. It is forgotten that if you are suspicious of a doctor's competence and the fact that he may have got his degree by paying huge capitation fee in a sub-standard medical school because his father was a rich doctor who could afford to indulge his child, you can give him a wide berth and pick another to be treated by. Likewise, you can a businessman who is there as a hereditary right.

Contrarian trend

But why should the people in a democracy where everything revolves around your entitlement to choose, settle for something that is foisted on them? Logically, one can argue that it is the son's right to contest an election but the chances of such a scion winning, backed by the parent's political networking, wealth and desire to 'do all' are near certain than of a voter wanting to be voted on merit. The scion's electibility is higher even if undeserving because voters want someone to do things for them, not a politician who wants to do things unto himself and his clan.

There is already a talk of bringing in fresh young faces into the ministry to be headed by Ashok Chavan.  The names that are doing the rounds are not of any politicians but of the sons, daughters, nephews and nieces because their patron parents have the ability to push their case. Others who aspire and hoped to use the Sushilkumar Shindes, Vilasrao Deshmukhs, and Chhagan Bhujbals et al to push their cases with the high command are bereft of any go-betweens. Talk of intra-party democracy and meritocracy goes for a toss here.

The 96

A proper headcount across Maharashtra would surely show how we are heading towards the clanship just as during the Maratha rule of Chhattrapati Shivaji. As many as 96 families were listed which had a say in the way the wind blew in Maharashtra. Together, they were identified as Shyannau kul (The 96 clans) and even today, you are more than likely to see matrimonial advertisements which indicate that their ancestry was among these 96. Such was the strength of these Maratha families. Others, therefore, were lesser of the Maratha mortals.

The difference would be that these would be from all castes but predominantly of Marathas.

This is a dangerous development, even if we accept that these younger crop of politicians groomed to elected positions are better educated. That does not deprive me of the argument that in a democracy, an individual counts in a level playing field. The system of dynasties and dynasts who are there to protect the family right and treasure largely acquired out of politics and political connections eliminates that level playing field.

Mahesh Vijapurkar