It is not the first time that Sonia Gandhi has taken a chance on running the Congress party without the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty holding the party’s leadership reins. When Congress won elections in 2003, despite calls for her to do so, Sonia decided not to run for the premiership since an unseemly controversy broke out about her foreign origins. In the run up to India’s elections this year, it was speculated that her son, Rahul Gandhi, now 43, may be nominated as Congress’ candidate for the premiership. Despite consensus on the issue within the Congress Working Committee, Sonia turned down the proposal. It could be that considering the BJP’s candidate for the top slot Narendra Modi’s election campaign momentum and his track record in Gujarat (good on the economy, appalling on communal violence) that could outshine Rahul’s political career so far, Sonia decided not to take the plunge. But Narendra Modi’s assertion that Rahul has been withdrawn from the candidacy because he did not want to run against the son of a tea seller is pure tongue-in-cheek irony. However, the decision not to nominate Rahul is a break from South Asia’s trend of dynastic politics. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have seen political legacies shared by close relatives of the leadership of mainstream parties. Such political parties are virtually run like ‘monarchies’. While these parties in their respective countries are wedded to democracy as a system, they contradictorily are reluctance to practice inner-party democracy.
In Pakistan for example, it seems to be an unwritten code that only a Bhutto can assume the leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (Asif Zardari’s episode was the exception that proves the rule). The same is true for PML-N and ANP. The Bhuttos of course have fought and sacrificed for the cause of democracy, but when it comes to the party’s leadership, it is always the bloodline that trumps all other considerations. PML-N is following the same pattern. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif are grooming their children to take the party’s caravan forward. There is no harm in bringing leaders’ scions into politics, but leadership should be earned, not inherited. Therefore merit and not family should be the criterion for selection for any political post. Unfortunately the political culture in Pakistan still seems to to be wedded to dynastic succession. *