in key electoral zones of India. Each one of these now has a strong, proprietary votebank and total ownership of its party. A pan-national dynasty no longer has the ability to breach these fortresses. From the Abdullahs in Kashmir, Badals in Punjab, Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, Karunanidhi in Tamil Nadu, Gowdas in Karnataka, the Thackerays and Pawars in Maharashtra, Lalu in Bihar to Naveen Patnaik in Orissa and the Sangmas in distant Meghalaya, all represent dynasties that may be limited by geography but cannot be challenged by a national party. So a Lalu may be thrashed by a Nitish, but his vote share will still remain ahead of the Congress, or even the BJP, particularly if the party was out of its alliance with the JD(U).
The inability to counter, or now challenge, the rise of these dynasties is the Congress party’s biggest failure. It has also, therefore, become the greatest game-changer in our politics. Each one of these dynasties is represented by a strong local leader who has tasted and exercised elected power. Each one has learnt the art of leveraging his regional power to grab a share of the national pie. They have also learnt that real clout, and money, is now in the states. This was explained to me most honestly by H.D. Kumaraswamy, Deve Gowda’s son, when he was briefly chief minister of Karnataka. “My father,” he said, “committed a great mistake in becoming prime minister of India.” In return for that job for a few months, he said, his father lost control over the state of Karnataka. “We all have to learn from the DMK,” he said, “keep your hold in your own state, and then negotiate with whoever leads the coalition in Delhi for a share of national power.” The Gandhis haven’t found an answer to this. Nor can they complain about it, because they were the ones who established the principle of a political party as a closely held family concern.
In fact, so lazy has the Congress leadership been with its politics that while its own vote base has been taken away by these satrap families, a number of mini or sub-dynasties have risen within the party. Partly because that’s where the leadership’s comfort level is: isn’t it so much easier to deal with familiar faces, to be among your “own”, generation to generation?