When Akash Ambani and Lakshmi Venu can inherit, why can’t Udhayanidhi Stalin?

Every time I look at the picture of Udhayanidhi Stalin standing in front of the DMK interview panel I am reminded of Gregory Rabassa’s unforgettable opening sentence in the English translation of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’: Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

The first line of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece is all about history repeating down seven generations that move through a labyrinth of magical realism visited by gypsies, ghosts and fatalism. The DMK’s first family is only into its third generation in politics, yet history has started repeating itself. Stalin had sat – not stood – in front of his father M Karunanidhi many times to be interviewed as a prospective DMK candidate, the last being in 2016. Now firmly on the party throne, Stalin has blunted the barbs of being a beneficiary of family politics, but as the new patriarch clearing the candidature of his son, the ghost of dynasty charges has returned to haunt him.

Stalin was 31 when he first contested in an assembly election (Thousand Lights, 1984) – and lost. Udhayanidhi is 43. But then, Stalin had been in politics from his student days. He was elected to the DMK general committee at the age of 20 and was jailed during the Emergency. Being Karunanidhi’s son helped fast-track his political graduation, but he did go through the motions. Those crying ‘dynasty politics’, ask what Udhayanidhi has done to get a party ticket.

Well, my argument is different: If you are not a member of the DMK – and in all probability you aren’t one if you are questioning the latest ‘son rise’ – how does it matter to you? If your answer is that you are a citizen and a voter, here is my advice: Don’t vote for such nominees if you are against family politics. Election after election, politics of the progeny has flourished across the country because people elect the political offspring. This has been true from Kashmir (the Abdullahs and the Muftis) to Kerala (the Karunakarans) and every state in between (the Badals of Punjab, the Chautalas, the Hoodas, the Jindals and the Bishnois of Haryana, the Paswans and the Yadavs of Bihar and UP, the Bahugunas of Uttarakhand, the Jogis and the Sorens of Chattisgarh, the Pilots of Rajasthan, the Scindias of MP, the Sangmas of Meghalaya, the Patnaiks of Odisha, the Thackerays and the Pawars of Maharashtra, the Naidus and the Reddys of Andhra, the Raos of Telangana and the Gowdas of Karnataka).

As much as you, me and a majority of others wish not to have our children in politics, the politician can wish – and push – his children to follow in his footsteps. Whether to accept and anoint them is up to the party. Indeed, not many in any party would dare to question such a family promotion and in fact many would go out of the way to support it to remain in the good books of the leader, but that is again an internal matter of the party.

And it is not just politics where inheritors rule the roost. Many of the successful Indian corporates are family-run. Will you not buy shares of Tata, TVS, Birla, Kirloskar, Godrej, Pallonji or Reliance (they make more money for investors than many others) because the mantle is passed on to a son or a daughter? When Akash Ambani and Lakshmi Venu can inherit, why can’t Udhayanidhi Stalin?

If political dynasties are bad for democracy, the system will find its way to remove them. In Marquez’s Macondo, Aureliano is the last surviving member of the Buendia clan. And, as the last line of Solitude says, “… because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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