Political dynasties have come to stay in South Asia /Monaem SarkerPOLITICAL dynasties in power for long periods have becom...
four national leaders, the able lieutenants of Bangabandhu on November 3, 1975 less than threemonths after the fateful Aug...
of 2

Political dynasties have come to stay in south asia

Published on: Mar 4, 2016
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Transcripts - Political dynasties have come to stay in south asia

  • 1. Political dynasties have come to stay in South Asia /Monaem SarkerPOLITICAL dynasties in power for long periods have become a part and parcel of life in South Asiancountries. This has been possible for their broad and reasonably strong acceptance by the commonpeople as opposed to the elite and the educated minority who consider dynastic rule incongruous inmodern day democracies. But, ironically, it is the democratic endorsement unequivocally given everyfive years that gives the dynastic phenomenon its strength and durability in these countries. It seemsthat this state of affairs is unlikely to change any time in the near future, if ever at all. The characteristics of South Asian dynasties are similar in some cases and divergent in others. Thereare hardly any clear-cut divisions among prominent dynasties. They are both like and unlike oneanother. Remarkably, they have gone through a spectacular mix of happiness and unhappiness, indeedof elation and despair. At the same time each dynasty rose to eminence and power in different sets ofcircumstances amidst different configurations of political forces, social milieus and personalpredilections. Jawaharlal Nehru, Solomon Bandarnaike, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman all had participated in the freedomstruggles of their respective countries. Their towering personalities, charisma or mass appeal were, ofcourse, the most important attributes of the dynasts and, in some cases at least, their lucky inheritors.But charisma by itself is not enough in this age marked by the revolution of rising expectations. Incountries and societies that lack resources and are unable to check their burgeoning populations, it iswell nigh impossible to meet even the minimal aspirations of the people. That is where populism,another hallmark of dynastic dispensation, comes in. Every South Asian dynasty, without exception,has taken recourse to populist slogans with varying degrees. Indira Gandhi in India had set the pace.Sheikh Mujib in Bangladesh and Zulfiqar Bhutto in Pakistan outdid her to an astonishing degree. It isperhaps the most revealing coincidence that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Indira Gandhi and ZulfiqarBhutto met roughly the same fate at the end of their distinguished, flamboyant and eventually tragiccareers. Remarkably, the reigning head of every dynasty harks back, consistently and persistently, to the greatsacrifices made by his or her family, though perspectives can change over time. It is also worth sayingdynasties once defeated at the polls often return to power in a subsequent election, as we have seen inthe cases of the Gandhis in India, the Bandarnaikes in Sri Lanka the Bhuttos in Pakistan. The SouthAsian dynasties, for all their faults, have played a positive role of enabling their countries to go throughthe difficult transition from colonial rule to democracy. Against this backdrop we will have to look atthe present state and future prospects of the dynasties prominent in South Asia. However, instead ofdiscussing four dynasties in the four countries named above, we will concentrate on Bangladesh in thisarticle. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s party, the Awami League, secured 73 per cent votes in the first generalelections in 1973. That was a great achievement; even Pundit Nehru in India had never received morethan 47 per cent of the votes polled. After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, her son Rajiv Gandhigot 49 per cent that remains that highest ever in India. In Pakistan Bhutto rode to supreme power withonly 38 per cent of votes. Unlike Srimavo Bandarnaike and Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Hasina did not get the prime ministership ona silver plate. After the assassination of her father, Sheikh Hasina had to fight and struggle hard fortwenty-one years. First six years she spent in New Delhi as an exile. Sheikh Hasina fought withimpressive determination and grit. Her stepping into power was more like Banazir’s ascension inPakistan. There was no way Hasina could have returned to Bangladesh in the immediate aftermath of herfather’s assassination. One thing was clear: power was in the hands of the anti-Awami League cliqueand the Mujib-haters. They would have eliminated her on sight like they had brutally gunned down the
  • 2. four national leaders, the able lieutenants of Bangabandhu on November 3, 1975 less than threemonths after the fateful August 15 massacre. Bangabandhu had indeed left behind his party and a hardcore of dedicated followers. In case of Bangladesh the bereaved Awami League requested Hasina to end her exile, return home,take charge and leadership of the party and lead the struggle for restoration of democracy from thefront. Party rank and file felt that she alone could keep the party united at the same time. She thusemerged as a mass leader and the country’s future leader. In 1981 Hasina was elected president of theAwami League in her absence. In the aftermath of General Zia’s assassination, the unexpected that happened was the unanimouselection of Khaleda Zia, widow of the slain president, as the chairperson of the BNP. In the early1980s dynastic succession developed as something natural and normal in Bangladesh, just as it did inSri Lanka at the end of 1950s, in India in the mid-1960s and in Pakistan in the late 1970s. Was thereany surprise in Khaleda’s choice as the leader of her husband’s party? The answer lies in the differencein the circumstances surrounding her case and those relating to others. India Indira Gandhi hadinvaluable training by being at her father’s elbow all the time, at home and abroad. She had also headedthe Congress Party as president. Benazir and Hasina grew up in political atmosphere and got thetraining in their childhood. But Khaleda had no interest in polities or in the affairs of state as long asher husband was alive. She was happy being a congenial housewife. Thus by the early 1980s both the ladies – one the orphan of the founding father of Bangladesh andthe other the widow of its first military dictator – had successfully won democratic endorsement andtaken their bow on the national political stage. Since then they have dominated the political scene tothe exclusion of all other political leaders, and it appears that they will be doing so for a long time tocome. In all the four countries, dynasties have caused complete polarisation. But nowhere is thesituation so alarmingly acute as in Bangladesh. Neither of the two former prime ministers is preparedto concede even the slightest merit to the other’s point of view. In Bangladesh today though two ladies are incarcerated on corruption charges under emergencyrules, they still dominate the electronic and print media. The so-called reformists in Awami League andin the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are cornered and losing out in their appeal. Though severalattempts and experiments at permutation and combination have been made for new leaders and newparties over the past nine months or so, nothing has taken shape as yet. Even after so much ofcorruption and excesses allegedly committed by Khaleda and her sons, the BNP could not be divided.Even the reformists are now seeking Khaleda’s blessings from inside the jail. In case of the AwamiLeague, Hasina’s position is somewhat better. The ‘minus-two’ formula is still on, but the idea is sureto be doomed. We should all remember that Bangladesh is not like Pakistan or Burma (Myanmar). Ifthe present caretaker government backed by the army keeps its word of honour and follow the alreadyannounced roadmap, Bangladesh will remain on the path of democracy. If democracy is allowed tohave a fair play and general elections are held in a free and fair atmosphere, the Awami League underHasina’s leadership will certainly come out with flying colours, whether she is inside or outside the jail.The party has won the war of independence with her father incarcerated in Pakistan under threat ofdeath. If past experience of the subcontinent is any guide, such hurdles never succeed in obstructing adynasty’s march forward. We can conclude with these words that for the foreseeable future, politicaldynasties have come to stay in Bangladesh as much as in other countries of South Asia.

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