ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hardly the End of Dynastic Rule

Hardly the End of Dynastic Rule

Using data on the family background of members in the 2014, 2009 and 2004 Parliaments, this paper argues against the perception that dynastic rule in India is on the way out, thanks to the replacement of the Gandhis and the Congress Party by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and with the rise of "young, aspirational voters". It points out that dynastic representation in the new Parliament is lower than in 2009, but nevertheless alive and well. Two persistent features of Indian democracy - the high returns associated with state office and the weak organisation of political parties - are catalysts to this trend, which even the BJP is not immune from.

With the replacement of the Gandhis and the Congress Party by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s TV channels have quickly proclaimed the end of dynastic rule. They interpret the drubbing that the Congress has received as a sign that dynastic rule is on the way out. And they locate the cause of this alleged end of dynastic rule in the emergence of a “young, aspirational voter” who values performance over family ties.

A look at the data on the new Parliament suggests otherwise. This article makes four points, based on these data. (1) Dynastic representation in the 2014 Parliament, although lower than in 2009, is nevertheless alive and well at significant levels. (2) It owes this persistence in part to two persistent features of Indian democracy – the high returns associated with state office, which ensure that the families of politicians will want to enter politics, and the weak organisation of political parties, which makes them more likely to allocate tickets to members of these families. (3) The drop in dynastic representation in Parliament overall is due primarily to the increase in the number of seats captured by the BJP, which is less dynastic than the outgoing Congress. But the trend in the BJP too is towards more dynasties. (4) The influx of “young aspirational voters” does not represent a deterrent to dynastic politics. Quite the opposite. The youth bulge among Indian voters and contestants may as a matter of fact intensify the trend towards dynastic politics, both in the BJP and the Indian political system in general.

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