|NEW DELHI (AFP) - India’s parliament is becoming
a closed shop with most young MPs drawn from
established political families, a British author has
said in a new book that is making waves in New
Patrick French, a London-based writer who is married
to an Indian, conducted the first ever analysis of
all 545 members of the Lok Sabha (lower house), and
discovered dynastic families now exert an
extraordinary grip on power.
social upheaval in India over the last 20 years,
more than two-thirds of Lok Sabha MPs aged 40 or
under are effectively ‘hereditary’, according to his
French said he was intrigued when the 2004 election
returned a new generation of young MPs glowing with
‘a sense of bland entitlement’ but whose main
‘achievement was usually to have shared genes with
an earlier leader’.
After the 2009 election, he gathered data on what
factor was most influential in every MP’s rise to
power, with categories including family, student
politics, business or trade union links.
He found that more than two-thirds of the 66 MPs
aged 40 or under could be described as ‘hereditary’
as their political families were the biggest factor
in their success -- though of course they still have
to be voted in.
Among the ruling Congress Party, every single one of
its 11 MPs aged under 35 had a ‘hereditary’ path to
power. And almost 70 percent of all female MPs were
in politics through their family background.
Political succession is hardly new in India.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister after
independence in 1947, began a dynasty in which his
daughter, Indira Gandhi, and her son, Rajiv Gandhi,
followed in his footsteps.
Rajiv’s wife Sonia is the current president of the
Congress party, and their son, Rahul, 40, is a
high-profile member of parliament tipped for the
French argues that as India undergoes rapid
economic development, the whole ruling elite is
closing in on itself -- and that rampant nepotism is
storing up trouble for the future.
“There will be a backlash,” French said, saying that
voters will eventually turn to fresh faces.
“At state level, there are a lot of ambitious,
wealthy young politicians not from political
families who want to push their way forward.
‘The Lok Sabha situation was common knowledge in
an anecdotal way but no one had looked at it
statistically. It has got worse. I didn’t expect the
results to be so clear-cut.’
French’s book, India: A Portrait, has created a stir
among Delhi’s chattering classes, with Outlook
magazine’s cover carrying the headline ‘Mummy-Papa
MPs’ over a cartoon of young lawmakers in prams.
Many reviews in Indian newspapers have praised the
book for shining a light on how the country’s
politicians are keeping it in the family -- though
others point out that India’s evolving democracy is
less than 60 years old.
The raw data on MPs’ backgrounds has been released
at the indiasite.com, detailing the dense network of
fathers, uncles and endless family connections
behind each member.
Some MPs’ biographies provide colourful variety,
featuring former cricketers, film stars, low-caste
‘untouchables’, deposed princes and tribal elders.
One, Kameshwar Baitha, is a Maoist commander who
won his seat at the last election despite being in
custody in a Bihar jail facing 46 criminal cases
ranging from murder to extortion.
For French, the make-up of parliament is just one
part of India’s bewildering complexity as the
country charges ahead with rapid industrial
development and a sudden embrace of many Western
“I had a very depressing moment interviewing a man
who spent years chained up in a quarry paying off
his debts, and millions of Indians live a life not
that different to his,” he said.
“But I ended up more optimistic than I expected
because whatever might be wrong with the politics or
anything else, the general population in India is
young and dynamic and the long-term trajectory is