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Mainstream, VOL LI No 52, December 14, 2013 | Focus on Challenge of Religious Fanaticism to Democracy in Bangladesh

Their Highnesses, Royal or Not, are Ready to Serve the Country Again. Make Way

Thursday 19 December 2013, by T J S George


There is no democracy like Indian democracy. Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the BJP candidate in Madhya Pradesh, declared in her election affidavit that she had a dinner set worth Rs 1.54 crore. Was that worth mentioning in a country where a Sheaffer pen was announced for Rs 3 crore plus last week? But when an indulgent reporter asked about the dinner trinket, the candidate smiled indulgently and said: “What’s the big deal, we are royals.”

Well said, your Royal Highness. In the days of the Raj and Divine Rights, you had the power of life and death over your prajas. When the Republic came, Sardar Patel took that power away but left you with a comfortable privy purse. In 1971 Indira Gandhi took away that purse, but left you with your palaces, your jewels and your dinner plates. With these you went to the hustings and regained the political power the Sardar had snatched from you. Sweet are the uses of democracy, ain’t they?

Can we do some arithmetic with the costing of that dining table knick-knack? According to Oracle Ahluwalia of the Planning Commission, an urban citizen needs only Rs 32 a day to eat reasonably well. That means a citizen who has Rs 11,680 can eat reasonably well for a year. So, if he has Rs 1.54 crore, he can eat comfortably for 1318.49 years. Since he is unlikely to need food for 1318.49 years, there is going to be an enormous amount of surplus food around. Therefore, a reasonable solution to poverty is to have more jewel-encrusted dinner sets at the disposal of royals. Convoluted logic? But certainly patriotic.

This election proves yet again that dynastic culture, the curse of our democracy, has been spreading like an airborne disease. Parties have also become more audacious in the use of violence as a political weapon especially in communally sensitive areas. There is no concern about where these would take us tomorrow. All that matters is today.

As dynasties go, the Scindias were the smart ones. The men took to the Congress and the women to the BJP; so whichever way the toss went, the clan always won. Minister Madhavrao Scindia’s son Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s son, Mahanaryaman, all of 16, is already into constituency tours in Madhya Pradesh. Yasho-dhara Raje, born in London and settled in America, returned to India only in 1994 to share the political pie. She demanded and the BJP agreed to issue a notice in 2006 saying that she should be officially addressed as “Shrimant” which in those parts means Your Highness. Her son, Akshay, has arrived from New York to let the voters admire him. All so nice and cosy—and democratic.

Of course, in our free-wheeling democracy even commoners can have the clout of royals. Union Minister Kamalnath’s son, Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi’s son, Himachal Pradesh Governor Urmila Singh’s son, Digvijay’s son, Ashok Gehlot’s son and sundry MPs’ and ex-Ministers’ sons are all vying for tickets. Ajit Jogi’s son and wife and Motilal Vohra’s son have already got tickets in Chhattisgarh.

The BJP is not lagging behind. Madan Lal Khurana’s son, Sahib Singh Varma’s son are in the field in Delhi. In Rajasthan former BJP chief Ghanshyam Tiwari’s son and Jaswant Singh’s son are active hopefuls. Irrespective of parties, all sons claim that they are in the fray not because their fathers were beneficiaries of politics but because they are independently qualified to serve the nation. So are millions of educated young men and women in our country. Some even offer themselves—only to be rejected. When dynasty works, democracy does not.

But then, dynasty and royals are better than communalism and riots. The BJP publicly “honoured” two of its MLAs accused of inciting violence in Muzaffarnagar. Mulayam Singh honoured a Muslim cleric known for communal provocations. His government announced a relief plan for Muslims—so partisan a move that the Supreme Court ordered its withdrawal. If we have spawned a democracy in which votes can be won only by pitting religions against one another, it’s time to restrict that democracy.

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