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Rahul Gandhi paid a visit to his constituency Amethi a few days ago. Rae Bareli-Amethi have become synonymous to India National Congress (INC). Every time one utters their name in front of people who have not been there, their eyes start glittering with a hypothetical boon these two places might have got because of INC’s long rule and because of the fact that they are considered to be Nehru-Gandhi family’s stronghold. Ideally, one would never imagine dynasty being part of democratic processes. The reality, however, states otherwise.

Democracy and dynastic politics are supposed to go different ways. However, it is an irony of Indian politics that they not only go together but also thrive in each other’s company. Indian National Congress (INC) is the oldest political party in India, which finds its origin in the struggle of independence and is considered to have contributed and caused to whatever good and evil has happened in India.

Here are two-three keywords that need special attention – elections, dynasty, development, and promises. Theoretically, there is no place for politics of dynasty in democracy. In Indian politics however, it is difficult to get the idea of democracy in without dynasty. Examples like Lalu, Mulayam, Sharad Pawar, Karunanidhi, Prakash Singh Badal are in front of us. So much so that a few authors have coined the term “democratic dynasty” to describe this characteristic of Indian politics. A probable explanation for the hold of political dynasties over Indian politics lies in the nature of Indian democratic practice itself, which remains restricted to campaigning and voting during elections. This does not mean that India’s democracy has not produced any change. There has been a slow but gradual societal transformation in India. But this has not led to a complete break with traditional practices and values, and patronage politics has only strengthened in recent years. Voters, as a result, make their choices depending on what they can expect from which party and they do not necessarily go by what the parties stand for. The political parties prefer to practice patronage politics to meet voter demands rather than act as agents of structural change. When members of the extended family control the parties (and their finances), the practice of such politics becomes simpler and easier.

A.G. Noorani writes, “In democracies governed by a dynasty, the leader is the prime fundraiser with control over the party machine and sees to it that the leading members remain divided. South Asia presents a vivid example of the baleful consequences of dynastic rule.”

The Congress (INC) account is a bit different – as the country’s oldest political party, the Congress got the chance to rule the country for the longest period. Rae Bareli and Amethi (carved from Sultanpur and Rae Bareli) have special place in the history of INC., as they have been primarily ruled by the candidates of INC.

Rae Bareli has seen mushrooming of several small and medium sized industries mostly during the time of Ms. Indira Gandhi. To state a fact most of the industries opened in Rae Bareli are taking their last breaths. On the other hand, Amethi has been tried to develop on the “Ghaziabad model”. New educational institutions and some new factories are open on the roadside. It is also certain that a few such ventures will be promised again during the election campaign for 2019 general elections. This is an experiment based on the development of the trick down model. At the local level, natives of Rae Bareli-Amethi get fourth class jobs and tenders to carry out day-to-day works of these enterprises. None of which ensures job and income security, leave aside any consistent change in the human development indicators.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Yadav family comes up significantly in the examples of the dynasty politics. Family members are present from Panchayat to the Parliament. Dynasty politics has its own mathematics for elections that creates and maintains space for such politics in a democracy. Saifai’s development cannot be ignored among all of them. However, in Rae Bareli-Amethi, from the bad condition of roads in all villages to the proper arrangement of electricity and water, the development model has failed the public. There have been land grabs on private and government land.

“The dynastic principle is still in vogue in the 21st century though its results have proved disastrous. What is called Gen Next is a demonstrable failure—Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. Nor must one forget the regional figures—Devi Lal’s son Om Prakash Chautala; M. Karunanidhi’s offspring M.K. Stalin and M.K. Alagiri; and a couple of others.” – A. G. Noorani

Issues such as irrigation, gas cylinder, hospital (ambitious AIIMS is missing), Public Distribution system are among the ones which the INC has been unable to complete despite its promises. Time to time INC justified that it is not ruling the state of Uttar Pradesh, therefore, such neglect. These two districts (Rae Bareli-Amethi) since their formation both of them have been mainly ruled by the Indian National Congress (INC). Two of the former Prime Ministers of India (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi) contested and won elections from there and the current president of INC Rahul Gandhi is three times serving Member of Parliament from Amethi, while his mother and the former President of INC Sonia Gandhi is serving from Rae Bareli. INC and Gandhi family has been the main ruling party and family in India since independence with some exceptions now and then. Primary investigation suggests that both districts do not perform well on the development indicators such as literacy, rural electrification, availability of health services etc.

Once People’s Democracy compared Purulia (the poorest district of West Bengal) to Rae Bareli-Amethi on six different socio-economic indicators, in response to Rahul Gandhi’s comment of development of West Bengal:

People below poverty line: Purulia 31%; Rae Bareli-Amethi 54%

Families with electricity: Purulia 29%; Rae Bareli-Amethi 14%

Per capita expenditure: Purulia Rs 461; Rae Bareli-Amethi Rs 385

Vaccinated children: Purulia 84%; Rae Bareli-Amethi 16%

Neo-natal deaths: Purulia 46 per 1,000; Rae Bareli-Amethi 83

Fatality below five years: Purulia 89 per 1,000; Rae Bareli-Amethi 160

A.Suryaprakash, a senior journalist, has also questioned the Amethi Model of Development on various points. He writes, “Mr.Rahul Gandhi talks every day about the food security bill and the reformed public distribution system (PDS) that the UPA Government has implemented. If this is the reformed PDS  local goons cornering kerosene and sugar supplies and LPG cylinders  one wonders what it must have been like in the preceding decades!”

The point here is not to say that INC or Gandhi’s are the worst performers, however despite being given the chance over and over again they have not been able to change the face of these two districts. We cannot just be satisfied with the arguments like India “runs like this only”.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a Doctoral Candidate of Political Science at Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. He can be reached at ashish.tiss@gmail.com. He wishes to write more on Dynasty Politics in India.)

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