The meaning of a ‘dynasty-mukt Bharat’

 Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray virtually addresses the people of the state, in Mumbai, on June 29.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray virtually addresses the people of the state, in Mumbai, on June 29. | Photo Credit: PTI

In the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s political strategy, opposition to dynastic politics has gradually moved from the periphery to the centre. This sharpened focus on a ‘dynasty-mukt (dynasty-free) Bharat’ was at the heart of the party line propounded at the BJP’s national executive meet in Hyderabad. Dynastic politics is becoming the meta narrative under which all the proclaimed ills of the opposition parties — corruption, misgovernance, secularism etc. — are sought to be encoded.

Discourse on dynastic politics

At the outset, it is important to note a shift in emphasis in the BJP’s discourse on dynastic politics. The charge of “ parivarvaad” (dynastism)” is now levelled as much against regional parties as the Congress. Post 2019, the BJP has hit a ceiling in its project of national dominance. It has struggled to expand its footprint in eastern and southern States such as Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The dominant force which has checked the BJP’s rise in all these States happens to be, in varying degrees, dynastic parties. Hindu majoritarianism alone hasn’t been able to propel the fortunes of the BJP in these States; thus the need to put dynastic politics at the forefront. The Prime Minister said he wants a strong opposition, liberated from the “clutches of dynasty”, which he termed a “disease” that is hollowing out Indian democracy. The recent splitting of the Shiv Sena, apparently orchestrated from New Delhi, was hence presented as a rare and salutary development of a party freeing itself from the stranglehold of a family and returning to its true ideals.

Also read | Narendra Modi dispensation wants an ‘Opposition-mukt Bharat’ not just a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’: Kapil Sibal

Functions of discourse

There are two main functions of the BJP’s discourse on dynastic politics, both of which highlight the nature of the party’s political mobilisation. First, the discourse helps the BJP manoeuvre formidable ideological challenges. In U.P., for example, the BJP does not contest the ideology of Mandal/socialist politics or contrast it with the ideology of Hindu nationalism. Instead, it tries to discredit the claim of the Samajwadi Party (SP) to Mandal/socialist politics, while simultaneously assuming part of that space. “I am for the society. When I say fake socialism, it is ‘ parivarvad’,” the Prime Minister had told an interviewer during the U.P. campaign. Recently, U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath used the floor of the Assembly to chastise SP leader Akhilesh Yadav to learn more about Ram Manohar Lohia’s vision, lamenting how “ samajwad (socialism)” had degenerated into “ mrigtishna (mirage)”.

The same dynamics inform the BJP’s political strategy against the linguistic-based parties in the east and south. The BJP wants to avoid a competition between regional identity and nationalism — a contest it knows would be difficult to win. The success of regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress in Bengal, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha in Jharkhand, and the Biju Janata Dal in Odisha against the BJP in Assembly elections after 2019 was because of the effective articulation of a distinctive cultural identity, subsumed in the brand of the party leader.

The BJP’s discourse of dynastic politics, therefore, seeks to depoliticise the tangled question of primacy of identity. It does this by trying to make the brand of the opposition party leader synonymous with a family rather than a regional-linguistic identity.

Thus, the BJP’s reliance on the discourse of dynastic politics is necessitated by the ideological constraints placed upon it, especially in newer political terrains. Insofar as electoral competition is concerned, the BJP’s Hindu nationalism is articulated less as an ideology (with definite views on subjects such as caste, class and language) and more as a stance of Hindu majoritarianism vis-à-vis Muslims.

Second, the party’s anti-dynastic discourse is geared towards the long-term objective of deepening the fragmentation of the opposition space. Even in the Nehruvian era, the Congress was never quite the ideological hegemon in much of the country, but controlled the vast majority of the States due to an intensely fragmented opposition space. The BJP hopes for a return to a similar paradigm, but dynastic parties present certain challenges in that regard.

Consider the BJP’s dominance in Assam, where the party seamlessly executed its strategy of expansion in a State with a history of regional assertion. This was done by capturing the space previously dominated by its ally, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP). The BJP inducted AGP leaders and appropriated many of their demands. A major reason why the BJP was able to seize the Assamese nationalism space was because this space was not guarded by a dynastic or personalistic party. There wasn’t a single leader who owned the brand of Assamese nationalism, particularly not in the faction-ridden AGP. This helped the BJP circumvent its traditional problem of weak State leadership, even as it bolstered its ranks through defections from the AGP and the All Assam Students’ Union, which included the previous Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. At present, the regional Assamese party space is divided between the AGP, the Assam Jaitya Parishad and the Raijor Dal. Not even the emotions provoked by the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests could help these disparate forces challenge the supremacy of the BJP under the plank of Assamese identity. In Bihar, the BJP is waiting for the exit of Nitish Kumar from the stage to deliver a similar coup de grâce on the Janata Dal (United).

This strategy of fragmentation and appropriation runs aground in States where the BJP faces a regional dynastic party, especially when the brand of the dynasty is anchored to a linguistic-based identity. For all their faults, dynastic parties are designed to build up the personas of their leadership as well as to resist fragmentation in the long run.

In order to avoid a leadership challenge, particularly in phases of succession, dynastic parties construct their organisations to be closely controlled from the top and restrict any independent structures within the party. Further, they make the ruling family the living emblem of the party values. Hence, potential challengers lack either the organisational clout or the legitimacy to topple the leadership or split the party. After the Janata Party underwent a series of fatal splits in the 1980s and ’90s, the political space vacated by it was occupied by a string of dynastic regional parties which consolidated themselves into stable political formations. Or take the case of the famously fractious Akali Dal, which united under the Badals to turn into the pre-eminent political force in Punjab and might now splinter again with the decline of the Badal dynasty.

The Shiv Sena exception

The recent rupture within the Shiv Sena is the exception that proves the norm. Not only has the Eknath Shinde faction required the careful logistical and political support of the country’s dominant party to engineer the split, the BJP has also felt it important to hand the rebels the Chief Minister’s Office to ensure the success of the split. Taking apart a dynastic party is hard work.

The nurturing of the Shinde faction is, after all, not a benevolent plan to nurse the Sena back to health under a democratic leadership. It is merely the final phase of the scheme, which has been in the works for a decade, to take over the space of the Sena. The recognition of this existential threat was the reason why Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray had moved to the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party camp. In splitting the Sena and damaging the Thackeray brand, the BJP hopes to deliver a mortal wound to its erstwhile Hindutva partner. Without the Thackeray face, the BJP realises, the Shinde faction will always remain a dependent, fledgling one that can be gobbled up at leisure once it finishes its purpose of weakening the parent Sena.

The argument being made is not that dynastic parties represent a resolute shield to the dominance of the BJP. In many respects, the BJP’s dominance has been enabled by the political pathologies that are often fuelled by dynastic politics: decaying organisations, the erosion of ideological resources, and de-linking of party structures from socio-political movements. Yet, in this BJP dominant phase, a post-dynastic future might not lead to a strengthened opposition, as the BJP claims, but to a hopelessly disarrayed opposition made up of rump parties. In effect, the call for a dynasty-mukt Bharat is also a desire for a (meaningful) opposition-mukt Bharat.

Asim Ali is a political researcher and columnist based in Delhi

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2022 8:42:45 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-meaning-of-a-dynasty-mukt-bharat/article65595666.ece