CONGRESS’ Rahul Gandhi criticised and justified ‘Dynasty Politics’ in India. He rightly maintained, “Most (political) parties have that problem.” He wrongly assumed, “So that’s how India runs.” The real, and the most obliterating, truth about the country is the manner in which Dynasty Politics transforms into Dynasty Inc., and corrodes the system from within. One can understand a lawyer’s son becoming a lawyer, a doctor’s doctor, and a politician’s obviously a politician. What decimates a nation is when the son of a lawyer corrupts the judiciary, daughter of a journalist destroys the credibility of the legislature, and a son-in-law of a politician becomes an extra-constitutional authority to maul the executive. All this in the name of Plutus or Lakshmi! This is the biggest threat to democracy; sadly, this is the trend in several democracies—from India to the Philippines, the US to Japan. Unfortunately, the trend isn’t new. In India, we knew about Chandan Basu’s riches, thanks to his father-chief minister, Jyoti Basu. We read about Ranjan Bhattacharya’s monetary clout when his foster-father-in-law, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was in power. Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, has become infamous. So has the Badal family in Punjab. The examples cut across party lines and politicians’ families. This form of capitalism destroys the politico-socio-economic foundations of a nation.
The sordid saga of Dynasty Wealth, through politics, needs to be the focus, and not Crony Capitalism or Crony Socialism. The latter two thrive because of the fruitful efficiency of the former. Once the sons, daughters and in-laws capture the political, judicial, and executive functions of a government, nothing is safe from open public loot. Everything buzzes and revolves around commissions, gifts, hugely discounted shares, unsecured loans, and so on. The nation becomes a bank, whose doors are open to the members of a select few political families, who then involve India Inc to completely distort the system.
It is in this context that the story of Karti Chidambaram, his wealth, and deep nexus between him and his father, P Chidambaram, the former Finance and Home Minister of India, is crucial. The Chidambaram duo evolved a shady and fraudulent system that controlled everything—access, clearances, joint ventures, monetary transactions, real estate deals, and what not. To do anything, money exchanged hands—from $15,000 to arrange a meeting with the Finance Minister, to millions of dollars to arrange for venture capital funding or getting a FIPB clearance. Everything was up for sale. It was as if the country’s finances and businesses were sold in a closed auction, open to a select few, and controlled by an even lesser number of people. It was a case of Closed Dynasty Capitalism.
As an article in The Economist argued, “A study found that in 2003 firms representing almost 8% of the world’s market capitalisation were run by relatives of their countries’ political leaders.” Clearly, family power acquires a darker shade “where business and politics are entwined in an exclusive nexus of money and influence”.
Narendra Modi has broken several links in Dynasty Politics. He has ruptured the systemic Crony Capitalism and Crony Socialism. Alas, he is yet to break the nexus between Dynasty Politics and Dynasty Wealth. There are elements within his regime who want this to flourish. We need to do what we haven’t managed in seven decades—build credible and transparent institutions that can break this nexus.