Unity and integrity of India under threat from ‘neo-kingdoms’
The ambitious politicians are building and expanding their ‘kingdoms’ in the Democratic Republic of India. The trend is not only causing political instability but is also threatening the unity and integrity of India.
India did not adopt the parliamentary system of government after a comparative study of merits and demerits of the parliamentary and presidential systems. The Constitution makers adopted it because the British rulers had gradually introduced it in India. The Constitution makers just followed the system with which they were familiar.
Whether it is a parliamentary system or a presidential system, it puts an end to the absolute rule of kings and feudal lords. The United Kingdom has retained a symbolic monarchy under its unique parliamentary system.
For the major part of the history, the subcontinent has been land of kingdoms, mostly small to medium. After independence, kings and queens became history. Privy purses to ex-rulers, ranging from Rs 5,000 per annum to Rs 26 lakh per annum and their privileges, were also abolished in 1971. However, the law cannot easily change the people’s mind-set. Privately the ex-rulers continue to treat each other as royals. In the erstwhile princely states, a large number of common people still treat the successors as ‘princes’. Taking advantage of the mind-set, several ‘scions’ of the former dynasties have successfully established themselves in politics and reached ministerial positions. Unconsciously, even the Government of India sometimes treat them as ‘princes’. In the heart of New Delhi, there is a road called ‘Shrimant Madhav Rao Scindia Marg’. ‘Shrimant’ was used to address the royals.
Our parliamentary system has created very fertile ground for the emergence of new ruling classes and dynasties. A new form of ‘kingdoms ‘or ‘empires’ has emerged. Ambitious and clever politicians nurse constituencies that in course of time become their fiefdoms. There are numerous examples of such ‘pocket boroughs’ which existed in England before the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867. The ‘pocket boroughs’ were constituencies controlled by one person or family and only that person or his family member was elected to the House of Commons. In our country, ‘pocket boroughs’ nursed by father is inherited by his son or daughter. For example, Amethi and Rai Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh are ‘pocket boroughs’ of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Yashwant Sinha made his son his ‘successor’ to represent the constituency he had nursed for a long time. The constituency sent his son to the Lok Sabha. He became a Minister in the union government. There are many more examples.
In addition to nursing a particular constituency which is a small geographical area, many politicians are in an advantageous position to build their ‘kingdoms’, not so much in a geographical sense but as strong influence over their castes or communities across the state or the country. Such community, caste, and sub-caste ‘kingdoms’ are ‘neo-kingdoms’ in our republic. A prominent member of the community, caste or sub-caste controls each of these kingdoms. They form political parties because that is necessary for building a mass base. In Bihar, Laloo Yadav built his kingdom by projecting himself as the leader of the Yadavas. He paid the price by going to jail but his dynasty is flourishing. Both his sons are now ‘princes’ and his daughters are also ‘princesses’. Both the scions of the dynasty are MLAs (they were ministers when Nitish Kumar and Laloo Yadav had formed a coalition government) and one daughter is MP. In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav has formed a much bigger ‘caste kingdom’ and nursed a large number of assembly and Parliamentary constituencies for the family members. Mayawati has formed her own ‘empire’ by presenting herself as the leader of Dalits. Ramvilas Paswan of Bihar is another Dalit ‘emperor’. The list of big and small ‘kingdoms’ or ‘emperors’ is endless. Some are satisfied operating at the village and block levels. Some are satisfied operating at state levels. More ambitious ones have eyes on Delhi.
Sonia Gandhi did not have to build an empire from scratch. She inherited a party and converted it into a pure family organisation. She also converted the assets of the Congress party (National Herald) into her private property.
These kingdoms and empires give tremendous advantages to the ‘neo-kings’ and ‘neo-queens’. They are able to raise funds from the supporters and businesspersons and build assets for personal and party use. A few years in power give them opportunities to grow from rags to riches. Once Laloo Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati, etc. were penniless. Today, they live in big bungalows, owned by the government or their own; they own vast wealth, lead luxurious, whether in power or out of power, that would be the envy of many successful businesspersons. Sonia Gandhi does not occupy any official position either in any party or in government but lives in a bungalow that is bigger than the Indian Prime Minister’s official residence. Her ‘princess’ Priyanka Vadra it is also leaving in a palace provided by the government. Whether in power or not, there is no change in their lifestyle. Once an emperor, always in a privileged position.
Such emperors are very happy when there is a coalition government. With the support of only a few MPs or MLAs, they manage to get ministerial berths and share political power. If it is not possible to enjoy exclusive power, the next best option is a share in it.
Some enterprising politicians have adopted a different strategy to build their empires.
Bal Thackeray (23 January 1926 – 17 November 2012) of Maharashtra adopted a different strategy to build his empire. On June 19, 1966, he founded the Shiv Sena (Shivaji’s Army), named after 17th century Maratha king Shivaji, as a political organisation though initially, he claimed that it was not a political party but an organisation to fight for the Marathi manoos (people). The organisation demanded preferential treatment to the Marathi speaking people in private and public sector jobs. In the 1966 manifesto of Shiv Sena, Thackeray stated that the South Indians and Gujaratis were depriving the Marathi manoos of jobs. He claimed that the Maharashtrians were being discriminated in their own state. The formation of the organisation was followed by Thackeray’s anti-migrant oratories. On 23 January 1988, Thackeray started publication of Marathi language newspaper Saamna, as the mouthpiece of Shiv Sena. Gradually, the Shiv Sena became more aggressive.
The growing number of non-Marathi speaking people in Maharashtra – from about 23.5% of the population in the 1970s to about 32% by the end of 2007 (according to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra for 2008-09) encouraged him to be more aggressive. Shiv Sena became a full-fledged party and from time to time launched agitations against the North Indians. A special characteristic of the Shiv Sena is that it has attracted unemployed Marathi youth from upper as well as lower castes, though the leadership has been primarily in the hands of the upper castes.
Despite all the noise and violent protests, North Indians continue to work in Maharashtra. In fact, the North Indians provide most of the basic services such as taxis and three-wheelers, the supply of milk and newspapers, to the people of Mumbai. Without them, life in Mumbai would be paralysed.
The net result of all the agitations has been that Bal Thackeray built a “Maratha Empire” for his family. In 2006, when he declared his son Uddhav Thackeray successor to his empire, his nephew Raj Thackeray formed a parallel organisation, Maharashtra Navnirman Samiti (MNS), with the same objective of building own empire in the name of protecting the interest of Marathi speaking people. Now the empire stands divided into two parts. Bal Thackeray’s son heads the bigger one and his nephew heads the smaller one. The two emperors enjoy social status, raise funds, own properties and lead luxurious life. The older party Shiv Sena has often enjoyed political power. Even today, it is part of Maharashtra government. Whether Marathi manoos got anything or not, the Raj Thackerays have got everything they wanted.
In Gujarat, in 2011 one Alpesh Thakor (born November 7, 1975) who belongs to the Koli community (a sub-caste of Kshatriya, categorised as OBC) founded Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena. In addition, come he also founded OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch (OBC, SC, ST equality forum). In other words, he has formed a confederation of OBCs, SCs, and STs. His declared objective is to unite members of these communities to demand proper reservations for people of respective communities in Gujarat.
When dependence on own caste does not help get power, caste leaders form ad hoc confederations with other castes. Alpesh did what Laloo, Mulayam, and Mayawati have been doing.
When Alpesh found that his organisations were not helping him to achieve his objectives to build his own empire, in October 2017, he joined Congress party, contested Gujarat assembly election and is now an MLA. However, even that was not sufficient. He decided to follow Bal Thackeray. As several TV channels have shown videos recently, he instigated his supporters to attack North Indians on the ground that they (the North Indians) were committing all sorts of crimes and were depriving the people of Gujarat of jobs. He threatened the North Indians and asked them to go back to their respective states. The rape of a 14-month-old girl by elaborate from Bihar provided the much-needed trigger to launch a full-fledged attack on the North Indians. For the crime of an individual, the entire community was held responsible. In several places of North Gujarat, the locals attacked and looted the North Indians who started fleeing to their states.
Incidentally, there is a remarkable similarity between the logos of Shiv Sena and Thakor Sena.
Non-Gujaratis constitute about 40% of the population of the state. If the Gujrati industries and businesspersons in Maharashtra contribute to the economic growth of that state, non-Gujaratis also contribute to the economic growth of Gujarat. However, those who believe in ‘divide and rule’ are not bothered about the economic consequences of their political ambitions. Once Alpesh Thakor succeeds in building his empire, he will join the rank of Thackerays, Laloos, Mulayams, and Mayawatis. He will also become an emperor. He will be able to raise funds from his supporters, build assets, acquire social and political status and lead a luxurious life, whether in power or not.
After several days of threats to and violent attacks on the migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh by his Thakor Sena, Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor has called off his sinister design. The analysts believe that Alpesh got worried when the police arrested and booked more than 400 persons, mostly belonging to his Thakor Sena, for committing heinous crimes like rioting and dacoity. The arrested persons started spilling beans about how they were preparing for unleashing violence. Moreover, attacks on the workers annoyed the Gujarati industrialists and businesspersons who were hit hard. Notwithstanding Congress MP Ahmed Patel’s support to Alpesh, the Congress leaders got worried because of fear of a backlash in other states.
Only the future will reveal Alpesh’s next strategy. However, right now his real motive is quite clear. He is succeeding in building his empire. His aim is that even if the Congress loses Gujarat, his empire remains intact, giving him status, wealth, and, when the time comes, share in political power.
Now, a BJP MLA of Gujarat has also jumped on the bandwagon. Let us see how he proceeds.
These are dangerous developments striking at the root of Parliamentary democracy. The country is being divided and subdivided on community, caste and sub-caste lines. Geographically and legally, there will be one India but socially and politically, there will be many big and small ‘kingdoms’, each headed by a king or a queen.
I am afraid, a day may come when the right-thinking people of India would start asking the question, ‘is the parliamentary system of government suitable for this country?’
If we want to save parliamentary democracy, all the political parties and organisations that resort to violence to achieve their objectives must be banned. All the caste or community based political parties and organisations must also be banned.
October 12, 2018
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