Indian politicians keep it in the family



NEW DELHI, Rupam Jain Nair - What's in a name? Well, in the world's largest democracy, political power for one.
With hundreds of millions of voters and thousands of candidates, India's general elections present a vast political quagmire into which many ambitious souls dive, only to be sucked down into obscurity.
One of the best tools for staying afloat is possession of a family name that already resonates with an electorate that often needs a reason to deviate from simply voting along caste or religious lines.



The current election, which winds up this week after one month of staggered polling, has seen dozens of sons, daughters and in-laws of established politicians competing for the national parliament's 543 elected seats.
Carrying the right name offers any candidate an enormous -- and some say unfair -- head start in terms of attracting media coverage and drawing crowds to rallies.
"It is a shame but Indian democracy can be explained by drawing family trees," said political analyst Ravi Kumar Deb.
Many Indian voters, according to Deb, are still in thrall to the idea of a governing social elite, be they descended from former princely rulers or the progeny of post-independence political leaders.
Dushyant Singh, 35, an MP from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party who is seeking re-election to his seat in the desert state of Rajasthan, can claim both a royal and political lineage.
Singh is the son of a former maharaja and his mother, aunt, uncle, grandmother and cousin have all been active in politics.
"Ruling and working for the masses is in our blood and we cannot deny it," he told a recent rally of his supporters.
But Singh bridles at the suggestion that his ancestry alone was enough to get him elected.
"Basking in family glory, wealth and grandeur does not give one an ability to connect with voters," he told AFP. "Popular endorsement comes with hard work."
Others are quite upfront about the importance of family connections.
Harsimrat Kaur is contesting a seat in the northern state of Punjab, where her husband is the deputy chief minister and her father-in-law the chief minister.
"I entered the electoral fray and now it is for my husband and father-in-law to make sure I come out victorious," Kaur said.
Supriya Sule, 39, the daughter of Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, felt no need to apologise for her family's prominence as she campaigned for a seat in the industrial state of Maharashtra.
"I carry my father's legacy and I am proud of it," Sule told The Indian Express newspaper.
India's most famous political dynasty is the Nehru-Gandhi family, which has given the country three prime ministers, including its first, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The family's current star is Rahul Gandhi, the 38-year-old son of Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, and who is widely tipped as a future premier himself.
In a recent televised press conference in New Delhi, Gandhi acknowledged his status as a son of privilege but said one of his ambitions was to reform the very system that nurtured him.
"The fact that the Indian political system tends to be about who you know and who your brother, your sister is ... reflects a closed system," he told reporters.
"I want to change the system of which I am a result. It's ironic but that's the way it is," he added.
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Tuesday, May 12th 2009
Rupam Jain Nair
           


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