I have a strong premonition for last 3-4 days; precisely speaking, since Priyanka Gandhi has started defending her husband. Since the day one I wanted to commit my thoughts to writing, but work took precedence, so ignored the premonition. During these elections I have develop another bad habit: checking news several times a day. This afternoon when I saw Priyanka Gandhi’s picture and statements again, my premonition became even stronger and led me to decide to waste some time on writing this down. Now, I am not a political analyst, so what I write below might be just imagination of an Indian citizen who intensely dislikes dynasties, and may be totally worthless as far as understanding politics goes. Still, here it is.
Let me explain what I mean. Shree Robert Vadra has been in news for quite some time due to his phenomenal success in business and land deals with the governments of Haryana and Rajasthan. The congress party did make some noises initially to defend him; but then settled on routinely parroting: he is a private individual nothing to do with Congress, he has done nothing wrong, and the like. What this parroting meant in addition to usual tactics of Congress was drawing a boundary of the family and putting poor Vadra on the periphery of that boundary. He clearly was not in the core, he was not the family-family, somewhat of a second rate member only.
We need to note that the most trenchant attacks on Vadra and his business acumen are actually in the past, now when Modi and Kejriwal mention his achievements it sounds more like an echo of first announcement of blatant abuse to the nation, it is memory; no more immediate biting sting. So why did Priyanka Gandhi open her salvos on Modi with this issue now?
It seems to me the answer does not lie in the content of what she said in defence of her dear husband or in her trenchant attack on Modi. The clue may be found in the form of her defence and attack, and not in the content.
To understand this clearly we should pay attention to the fact that as soon as Priyanka started defending her husband the Congress machinery immediately took the cue and started considering him as a member of the family, and not as a private individual. That brings Vadra into the core and squarely as a part of the Rajparivaar. Second, in defending Vadra Priyanka referred to inner strength and resolve like her grandmother. So the source from which she draws energy and courage is Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Ordinary mortals like you and me when face adversity and injustice express faith in the moral goodness of the world or judiciary, or some such thing. That is because we don’t have illustrious ancestors who can pass on their courage to us. Priyaka’s reference to Indira Gandhi is not so subtle an attempt to evoke in public mind what Congress machinery has been occasionally, just enough to keep the imagery from fading, saying: she looks like Indira Gandhi; walks, speaks, behaves, and wears her saari like her. A reincarnation. Reference to Indira Gandhi is simultaneously evoking the family’s past, reminding us mortals yet again of her illustrious lineage, and declaring in herself the qualities that are bestowed by that lineage. Third, she does not stop there, she brings her children in; depicts them as asking questions regarding allegations on their father. This communicates to the adoring public future of the family, and the royal environment in which they will be brought up as honest and persevering leaders for the future. So this seems to be a symbolic act designed to bring Vadra in the centre, depicting herself as Indira II and hinting at continuation of fine lineage of future leaders.
The question is: why now? Why Priyanka Gandhi has suddenly decided to send these signals? Of course allegations in Indian elections fly thick and fast; true and false both. The public is so terribly confused that it can hardy make its mind up on the veracity or otherwise of these allegations. Lies are also common. What is new in this election season is that the dynasty has found its match in telling lies with equal ease and brazenness as they have been doing since Indira Gandhi. Modi perhaps is the only Indian politician who can match Gandhis in telling lies knowingly and also being aware that the public also see them as lies. This brazenness is not found in anyone else, other politicians’ attempts at it are just pathetic acts against these élan masters of the art can exhibit. Kejriwal has promise, but needs a lot of practice yet. He has no compunctions, like Mod and Gandhis, in telling lies; the problem is that when he tells lies he looks like a joker; while Modi looks an evil power (power, even when evil, is mesmerising) and Gandhis still manage to look aristocratic. Poor Kejriwal in spite of his best efforts is no match to them.
So what has happened that prompted Priyanka to take this symbol thick course of action? It seems it is prompted by something ‘internal’ to the family, and not by outside compulsions.
My guess is that the dynasty has realised that Rahul Gandhi as the next ruler has failed. This election is his third chance, and his performance in this one is going to be worst then the earlier two chances. The way he speaks and indications of his muddled thought process escape from him does not cut much ice with people. Even the combined might of the dynasty and its loyal subjects cannot make him look like anybody with some spark. He is simply empty. And this election is gone in trying to make a ruler out of that empty man.
Defeat in one election, however, should not be seen as uprooting of the dynasty. They have their financial resources, enough to fight several such elections. Have their network of loyal subjects, have an army of power brokers. And as a last resource have the feudal mind-set of Indian public who are used to looking towards established families. But even these resources in the hands of someone as dud as Rahul Gandhi do not always work. Therefore, looking at the future, they are bringing Priyanka, a reserve force, out. I suspect that right after the elections there shall be newspaper articles comparing Priyanka with Indira, hailing her as Indira II. There shall be a clamour from the loyal courtiers appealing Priyanka to take bigger role in the party, and slowly she will be built as the next Congress leader and natural—by divine right—candidate for Prime Ministership in 2019.
Now even if this highly speculative—bordering on nightmare—imagination of mine happens to come true why should I have this premonition? What is wrong in a political party trying to revive itself in a democracy? Nothing whatsoever. But the problem is that this is not revival of Congress party at all. Congress is dead long back. What we see as Congress is its ghost being used by a dynasty as a tool to deceive people. This is a strategy of the dynasty, not that of the party. That means we are not going to be free of this evil—i.e. Evil for democracy—force soon. There is more to come! That is the cause of my premonition. And the Indian voters will be ready for revival of the dynasty after five years. During these five years they will most probably experience repressive governance of Modi. Or a free for all governance of some really corrupt and unruly bunch of toughs. So be prepared for a lot of media bombardment of Priyanka as Indira II in the next five years.
1. Feudalism is not simply a state of mind; it has material basis as well. It is a mode of production which entails certain ways of social relationships and attendant value system.
2. Birth-right is the core value of this value system. A man (usually not woman) has right over certain property, wealth, labour force and social respect just by contingency of birth. You can become a king simply because your father was king. And you’ll be a Royal Priest just because your father was a royal priest. Furthermore relationship between labourer and proprietary class was not based on social-formal contract, but it was direct dominance based on patron-client relationship which used to invoke the value of loyalty.
3. Modern capitalist transition of society made the relationship between propriety class and labourer formal and contractual; however it left something significantly unchanged. The system of inheriting property and power from our ancestor has not been changed significantly since the medieval time. It left the notion of birth right unchallenged.
4. For example let us imagine an industrialist who gets land somewhere in India on preferential basis and also gets loan from public sector bank on 0.1 % interest rate. Let us assume that the industrialist gets that access to common property resources- land and finance- purely on the merit basis as setting up factory might bring jobs and general prosperity. What about the next generation of that industrialist who’ll inherit significant share of return on that resources. Would that be on the basis of merit or just because of expediency of their birth? Isn’t it naturalisation of birth right?
5. We have to historicize the discussion on dynastic politics. It has to be more substantial and rooted in material production. So long you keep treating feudalism merely as a state of mind; you’ll end up blaming ‘Indian people.’ By the way constitutional monarchy prevails in England, Belgium and several other European countries and even in liberal democracy we have examples of Bush senior and George W Bush.
6. Isn’t it interesting that the dominate discourse on business and economics brings the idea of ‘entrepreneurship’ as a significant justificatory notion and the list of successful ‘entrepreneurs’ is called ‘fortune-500
7. Both dynastic politics and plutocracy are detrimental to democracy, but their dominance in modern democratic polity requires rigorous analysis.
8. I couldn’t agree more with your observation that power, even when evil, is mesmerising.
I agree with you. I was not analysing feudalism; actually I was analysing nothing. Was simply sharing a thought and in that process I thought that the ‘feudal mind-set’ of Indian public is the most important asset of dynastic politics. Now, why the Indian mind-set is still ‘feudal’ that is for social scientists to answer. By the way, is it possible that the material conditions of production may morph into different kinds of relationships to support feudalism when capitalism progresses to a certain level? Why the masses should not be blamed? I believe blaming masses is actually holding them responsible and therefore attributing them capability to choose. Those who do not think masses are responsible make them non-thinking cogs in machine or totally controlled by socio-political conditions. To the level where they lose their own awareness and therefore humanity. So, they are human, they have to be responsible.
Politics – particularly a democratic politics – is all about collective will. I don’t think structural explanation devoid people from collective will and therefore ‘non-thinking cogs in machine.’ Structural explanation also provides opportunity for collective reflection. It depends on politics and pedagogy of social sciences. It also depends on day to day working of democratic politics. For example if we collectively reflect on the problem of ‘birth right’ we can also propose ‘inheritance tax’ or ‘wealth tax’.
Manoj ji, all I am saying is if the systems don’t work properly in a democracy people have to be considered responsible. The the ‘deification’ of people as ‘always good’ and ‘making them creatures completely shaped by structures’ both diminish their humanity and responsibility. Then the best option remains a ‘philosopher king’. I don’t like that path. In your urge for collective thinking has to acknowledge a little—however small—corner of independent thinking in the members of this collective. That is enough to hold them responsible and also to respect them as humans. Please remember that humanity will go out of the window if you though responsibility out. And then, no democracy will be needed. Actually there will remain no rational objection to deception, torture and using people for political masters whims.
So should we brush aside structural issues? How to deal with it?
I never said we should brush them aside. All I said is that the responsibility of critique and change in the structures is also that of the people. When people like you are publicly debating these issues they are involved in collective thinking and are urging the masses to think carefully about all these things. To my mind that is the way. I am willing to call sections of people ‘wrong’, oppose their views, fight with sections of them over ideas and actions; but am not willing to take a patronising attitude that ‘they poor things are not responsible, they are conditioned to think the way they do’. No, they are responsible and if they don’t think right and clearly they will face the music. I agree, there are forces, you and me included, who are creating conditions that influence peoples’ thinking and don’t allow capabilities of clear thinking and action to develop. They are to be exposed and blamed. But ultimately even they are to be exposed informant of the people only. Your thrust against the right to inherit property is correct. It is a huge problem. But at this moment (a) there is no alternative and better model clear in peoples’ mind; (b) the forced that benefit from it are trying their level best to tell people that there is nothing wrong in this, (c) that everyone has the opportunity to become as powerful and rich as they are. These claims, to my mind, are not true. But they have to be collectively analysed, even deconstructed if you like (though I do not understand this term), and people have to see a sense in that analysis and makeup their mind to act. Till they don’t, I am not sure what could be done. Wisdom of a philosopher king or a small priesthood—be that religious or political-ideological—is not going to work. Your beloved history tells us that. 🙂 All I can do at this moment is quote Faiz: “uthega un-al-haq ka naara, jo main bhi hun aur tum bhi ho”, hope I am correct in spelling it out.
You raise some interesting points. I want more of your views, and so am questioning some of your ideas.
About entrepreneurs. In my view, it is a respected word (in capitalist economies), even if it is a second generation entrepreneur who inherited a business, is because a true enterprise (which is not earning by finding loopholes in public laws or lining pockets) cannot eat away what it earns. The earning has to be constantly kept in circulation by reinvestment in production. Those kind of businesses also need to set up shops on bank loans, face enormous risks and pay loans back constantly too, else face closure. What appears as wealth is often resources in circulation. True that an entrepreneur would be having a good lifestyle and expend some part of earnings, but if there is too much wastage of resources, the enterprise is doomed to collapse.
The fact remains that much of business we see around is not entrepreneurial. It is mostly trade, or pilferage of public resources using various means, or simply eating away bank loans or taxes. That is truly dishonest wealth but won’t be called entrepreneurship by any stretch of imagination. The Indian system creates perfect conditions for blossoming of these.
You are asking difficult questions Anshumala ji. At least for me It is too difficult 🙂
But let us talk about second generation ‘entrepreneurs.’ Those who inherit business does not allow the creation of level playing field for other first generation ‘entrepreneurs.’ Entry becomes extremely difficult for those first generation entrepreneurs. Sometime they have to wait for major technological break-through. (case of Infosys and facebook)
Also in his recent book Thomas Piketty writes that if an average growth in economy is 1 percent in a certain period of time (20-30 years) return to capital is average 5-6 %. This creates ‘patrimonial capitalism’. which is the core issue, I believe. Even financial institutions you have mentioned are controlled by this patrimonial capitalist groups. We also need to discuss rent seeking behavior of capital and speculative casino capitalism where inherited capital does not find its place in productive process. They instead start seeking rent or start unproductive-speculative way of multiplying their wealth.
I find ‘crony capitalism’ is an euphemism for more serious structural issue. So start talking about ‘patrimonial capitalism’.
Here is one quick review of Thomas Piketty. You’ll enjoy reading it-
Obviously, in a democracy, there is nothing like a single collective will. So there will always be negotiating and competing groups. If it suits one group to introduce wealth or inheritance tax, it will suit another to abolish them. The question in a ‘democracy’ like ours then becomes, which group is ready to play a dirtier game to bend policy in their favour. Can you suggest an antidote to that?
Thanks a lot, for your answer and for the article. The last two paras speak a lot by themselves.
Difficult questions for you? I suppose even Thomas Piketty has no answer for the difficulty of our times, with the world approaching a full circle of inequality- greater equality – inequality. But with enormous changes in technology, communication, lifestyles and means of production, even earlier economic principles don’t seem valid any longer, at least to my limited understanding.
Thanks Anshumala ji ! Raising pertinent questions is important, even if we don’t have clear answer as of now. Please also go through this. Look who is supporting inheritance tax :
Dear Manoj (if I add ‘ji’ to your name in a pure Digantar tradition, the spelling becomes a bit odd :-)),
I am perhaps raising a silly objection, but I think anything ‘first generation’ is difficult, and there is never a level playing filed for newcomers, who have to work far harder. Just as an example, would a fresh newspaper have a level playing field with Hindu? Can the goodwill be countered by resources alone? Wouldn’t the second generation editors of Hindu inherit goodwill/reputation? Can that be taxed? That is not to say I am in favor of people simply inheriting vast wealth and doing nothing for their living. All I am saying is material wealth is not the only thing that is inherited. People inherit cultural capital and intangibles too, in vast measures (both fortunes and misfortunes).
In that case we have to accept inequality and systems which sustain and reproduce it -for example dynastic politics, plutocracy and cronyism etc.- as our fait accompli.
At least start taxing tangible inheritance (may be at reasonable modest rate) and start institutionalizing intangibles in institutions like school, universities and other institutions. We have enough of Gharana music, not open schools for learning musical instrument 🙂
Please read- now open schools for learning musical instrument
I am reminded of someone describing a German ‘truly open university'( I forget the name) where anyone can offer a course to teach any subject of human interest (and not only people with formal credentials or ‘academics/intellectuals’ alone). Whether the course runs, is repeated, and the amount of fees charged all depend on the interest shown by public.
However, technology is changing the playing field in very rapid and unpredictable ways. Look at the large number of free online courses, on almost any subject that lends itself to the medium, even by the best players in the field, particularly in higher education. Online media is also changing free expression in rapid ways (including me writing on this blog :-)!)