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Dynamism Or No, Dynasties Prevail

The Independence Day festoons and the little flags stuck onto street lamps were damp, soggy, drooping salutes to 56 years of self-rule and democracy as late monsoon showers pelted the Capital. Inder Malhotras study in his Saket residence exuded insulated cosiness, away from the ravages of nature. The archetypal hardcovers on the bookshelves and paper scattered study table seemed as immortal as the political fabric he writes of in Dynasties Of India And Beyond Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh.Five decades of journalism (as resident editor of The Statesman (1964-1971), editor of The Times Of India in New Delhi (1978-1986) and India correspondent of The Guardian, London and Manchester (1965-1978) and as a political commentator and columnist since) have reinforced his belief that the political psyche of the subcontinent is unchangeable, particularly public obeisance to dynasties. His book could have been a predictable eulogy of the ruling families of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but is instead a rather scathing comment on a system that has its foundations in kinship. In a conversation with Madhumita Chakraborty, Mr Malhotra predicts the advent of mini and midi dynasties in India and diverse governments in diverse states. You begin by saying that dynasties are not typical of India and that there have been dynasties in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. Dynasties began in Sri Lanka and were there for a long time. The point I was making was that dynasties got known only after Indira (Gandhi) and nobody had till then paid any attention to what was going on in Sri Lanka. It was not just the election of Sirimavo Bandaranaike as the first woman prime minister in the world, but also the fact that the Senanayakes had ruled for the first 10 years and then the Bandaranaikes took over. If you look at page 233, I quote the Sri Lankan historian K M De Silva, who says that in Sri Lanka, for the first decade of independence and even afterwards, power remained in the hands of the children of the Attygalle inheritance. They were the heirs of of D C G Attygalle, a wealthy mine-owner, whose three daughters married men who by themselves or through their kinsfolk or children dominated the politics of the country.The present leader of the party of the Senanayakes and Jayawardenes is J R Jayawardenes nephew, Ranil Wickremasinghe. We have had ruling families in India and Pakistan too. Pakistan, yes. Pakistan is a much more feudal society, but unfortunately, they have had very short interludes of rather flawed democracy. But it is quite remarkable that whereas a very large number of Indian politicians have come from classes that were dispossessed and not part of the political process (a classic example at the moment is Mayawati, after all she is a product of the last 20 years), in Pakistan, that has not happened. When I was a child in school, there was a man called Allah Buksh Soomro, who was the premier of Sindh. In Benazirs time, Illahi Buksh Soomro, who is a third generation grandson, was the speaker of the Assembly and he was talked of as the future prime minister. In every cabinet, there are families well entrenched from the British days.

You speak of dynastic rule in Bangladesh as well, alternating between Hasina Wazed and Khaleda Zia. Yes, Bangladesh has a two-dynasty system, either Hasina or Khaleda. I think both are young and, barring some accident, they are both likely to be around for a while and they are likely to be completely destructive of each other. It is astonishing, the way they are going. Do you think the dynasties naturally succeeded our heritage of kings and nawabs? Somewhere in the last chapter I have made this point, where I ask What makes them tick? I have quoted Raja Anwar of Pakistan, who, when comparing the Nehru-Gandhis and the Bhuttos, came to the same conclusion. For a large number of people here, the entire ethos has been one of kings and queens, emperors and nawabs. It was an obvious thing that a rajas daughter should be a rani. In 1964, there was a terrible crisis at Hazratbal in Jammu and Kashmir, when Karan Singh, who was the Sadar-e-Riasat at that time, arrived and a very militant crowd calmed down. Someone said, Ab hamara baadshah aa gaya hai, thodi der thehar jao (Now our emperor has arrived, tarry awhile). Similarly, I have quoted an incident in Pakistan, where people were quite aware of (Zulfikar Ali) Bhuttos bestiality, but still worshipped him. A man said, What the hell, in our country, a village patwari can get five people killed and get away with it? That man was a shahenshah. What difference does it make if he got 5,000 people killed?. The feudal loyalties? Yes, but not just feudal loyalties. Here the foundation of kinship is the only security you have. Nepotism is an act of duty. The demands for kinship here (in the subcontinent) are vastly more powerful and compelling and at times cruel because if a man does not comply, he is in trouble and dismissed as arrogant. The second reason (for the obeisance to dynasties) is the mindset. There is an incident I mention in pages 27 and 28, when B K Nehru, one of the brightest stars of the Indian Civil Service, came home from London in 1934. Among the visitors congratulating him at his residence was the greatest grandee of Punjab, a nawab named Malik Sir Umar Hayat Khan Tiwana, who asked him, Son, what have you learned? B K Nehru said, Sir, I have learnt that it is my job to rule without fear and favour and to make sure that I enforce quality before the law, and the nawab hit the ceiling. He said, These wretched British are filling the heads of our bright generation with absolute muck. He then told him, Look son, a hakim who cannot help his family and friends and harm his enemies is no good at all. In his memoirs published in 1997, B K Nehru says, After many painful years of seeing the gradual destruction of the democratic and constitutional structure (in independent India)... it has

become apparent to me that the Nawab was no freak at all... He represented the attitudes and values and expectations of the common man. It is the same common man who is ruling us today and it is his representatives who are practising the precepts which the Nawab had prescribed for me. But dynasties are not peculiar to the subcontinent either. How about the Kennedys and the Bushes? Yes, yes, and the Salisburys, Chamberlains and Pitts (of England), but that was in 18th and 19th century Europe, but thereafter, the system has not been around. But Elizabeth Dole is likely to try and surely, Hillary Clinton is in the line (for the job of President)... The difference is that George W came to the White House eight years after Papa had left it and in between was the governor of Texas. You see here, Rajiv Gandhi succeeds Amma within hours of her assassination, but within minutes of All India Radio officially acknowledging that she was dead. Today, it is his widow, who is the candidate (for the post of prime minister).

You conclude by saying that dynasties are inevitable. They are going to stay because clearly, there is an acceptance of them and a lot of incentive. Although you might have noticed that in India, like everything else, there is a lot of devolution, because state-specific dynasties are coming up and there is no sign of any new all-India dynasty. And the old one is not exactly in the ascendant. The Congress has been out of power for seven years, but the dynasty has been out of power for 14 years. But mini and midi dynasties are mushroomingthe NTR family in Andhra Pradesh, the legacy of MGR, which was fought over by the wife and the girlfriend. The Abdullahs are going to fight back with their lives. So, its going to be a chain of dynasties. Multi Page Format