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Why is India's 'amateur' democratic republic in thrall of hereditary association?

Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot
Rit Nanda*
In 1947, when India became independent, our modern founders decided to experiment with the democratic system. Furthermore, as the British left, so did the presence of their crown in our country. Hence, in 1950, when the Constitution of India was given to its people, it was proclaimed as a democratic republic.
However, while the British monarch may have left the shores, the monarchs of the princely states of India still abounded. While they voluntarily acceded to India, some more so than others, their mystic did not evaporate overnight even though nominally we had become a republic. In places which there were no existing lineages, new clans arose to fill the void.
In this landscape, a population used to being ruled by hereditary claimants to a throne for ages was asked to suddenly bring itself to confront the huge responsibility placed on its shoulders where the success or failure of the state depended not on someone ordained, but on the ballot they cast.
In reality though, a look at multiple political parties of today shows that the choices have already been narrowed down by claims of inheritance. In the farthest place up north in Jammu and Kashmir, both Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are children of former Chief Ministers.
Down south, the AIADMK government uses the photo of erstwhile chief Jayalalitha in every briefing it ever does for the present Coronavirus pandemic, while the opposition DMK is led by the children of former Chief Minister Karunanidhi.
In the west, Uddhav Thackeray is following in the footsteps of his father Bal Thackeray and in the East Conrad Sangma holds the same post as Chief Minister of Meghalaya as his father PA Sangma once held. A look at multiple other states also shows this to be true across the length and breadth of India.
It is in this background that many of the current ills afflicting our politics can be understood and given context. A recent tug of war has arisen between the Congress and the BJP regarding the new generation of party leaders. In Madhya Pradesh the kerfuffle was with Jyotiraditya Scindia and in Rajasthan it pertains to Sachin Pilot.
While much has been made of both of them being neglected in Congress and the mother and son duo of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi been much maligned, the truth is both the Scindia and Pilot names are famous political names and not people who have made it from the grassroots. Hence, it is a very unseemly spectacle to see one party decry the other of hereditary politics while making alleged efforts to bring heirs and heiresses into their own party.
But that unseemly nature exists primarily because of the citizenry of India which loves to gather around a name and not take responsibility on itself. This trait leads to two distinct manifestations. Firstly, certain names are venerated above any political affiliation or ideology. Secondly, since the populace does not want to take responsibility for its decisions in the present, it looks to the past to apportion blame. Let us look both of these traits, which overlap many a time.
This year, for instance, BJP unveiled Chandra Kumar Bose as a face of the party in West Bengal. Beyond anything that the gentleman had ever achieved, he is a descendant of Subhas Chandra Bose, and it was believed the he could serve as a protector of the legacy of Netaji’s patriotic ideology.
In truth though, there already exists a guardian of the ideological legacy of this venerated freedom fighter in the form of the party he himself founded and which, in all probability, will be contesting the elections for West Bengal legislature: The All India Forward Bloc.
If we were a mature democracy who wanted to preserve the political philosophy of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, and this is by no means an advocacy but a presumption on part of the writer to propose a logical conclusion to this consideration, then we would vote for the Forward Bloc.
However, because of our fetish with names over actually understanding the historical significance of said names, we might instead actually think of voting for a party on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum just so we can cast a ballot for the surname Bose.
Chandra Kumar Bose
Perhaps an even more extreme example of names trumping historical association is the strength of the descendants of Indian princely state rulers in India’s current political and social landscape. Let it be remembered that those rulers who were allowed to keep their vassal states under the British were granted that dispensation because they were aligned with the British forces.
While both Congress and BJP look to woo Scindias, their matriarch at least had the good sense to attempt to hide their erstwhile anti-freedom struggle loyalty from the masses
Yet, for some reason they are venerated by our current voters. We had no problem electing Srikantadatta Wadiyar as Member of Parliament from Mysore but are debating nowadays about the patriotism and greatness of Tipu Sultan of Mysore who revolted against the British in 1857.
A film about Variyankunnathu Kunjahammed Haji, who fought against the British, stirs intense passions, but we are blasé about the Travancore royal family and their custodianship of places of common worship. Perhaps, it is fitting then that while both Congress and BJP look to woo the Scindias, their matriarch at least had the good sense to attempt to hide their erstwhile anti-freedom struggle loyalty from the masses.
The second visible symptom is that of allocating blame to past, as mentioned before, instead of accepting blame in the present. As an amateur democracy still unable to grasp the great responsibilities foisted on us by our Constitution, we constantly seek a way out by blaming long deceased leaders by inventing conjectures, knowing the dead cannot retort and hurt us or correct our preconceived notions.
A popular notion invokes a leader in place at the time of independence as being able to stop the reality of partition from occurring. If there was a way to go back in time and see that, it might be worth pondering; but because there is not, there is no way to verify a possibility in the past and it remains a pathetic attempt to malign those who did their best to bring about our freedom.
We have also seen an increasing veneration of Nathuram Godse to the extent that some contemporary writers have advocated for assassination on the basis of religious beliefs to be considered as a question worthy of discussion by the Indian state. To those mulling it over, please note that the commitment of not taking away the life or liberty of a person without due procedure of law is the cornerstone of a civilised society. 
It points to a glaring lack of courage on our part to accept our own inadequacies at the moment that we keep making these attempts to blame our current misfortunes on those who fought, albeit imperfectly, for our independence.
For us to progress as a democratic republic, we must make it a mantra to vote based on performance and not based on names. This means freeing education from the clutches of politicians, irrespective of the party, and subjecting our syllabus to research and peer-review so that the past can inform and not become a battleground.
When the upcoming generation is confident in its learning, it can then take responsibility trusting that their knowledge places them equal on merit to anyone else. Then the debates can happen about competing national visions of the future and we can elect people accordingly. If that means electing someone with a famous surname, that is fine; as long as that privilege is bestowed by us and not by hereditary association.
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*M.Sc Energy, Trade & Finance, City University, London; Procurement, Logistics and Human Resource Supervisor and Consultant

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