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Women politicians

Survival of the smartest

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THICKER THAN BLOOD: Women politicians like Jayalalithaa and Mamata have demonstrated that determination and focus can take you further than family legacy

India's political landscape is dominated by dynasties but three women politicians have managed to break the stranglehold of the power parivar.

If Rahul Gandhi had been, say, Rahul Kumar, could he have been in line to inherit the Grand Old Party of Indian politics, the Congress? Or if Akhilesh Yadav wasn't his father's son, would he have been chief minister of a Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh? Or if Naveen Patnaik didn't have an illustrious politician father like Biju Patnaik, veteran Socialist leader and two-time chief minister of Orissa, could he have jumped in one leap from being a dilettante to holding the reins of power in his home state?

The answer to all three questions is obvious: no. Politics is a closed circuit game today. Freshers don't stand a chance without the old family tie to help them. It not only guarantees entry into an exclusive club, it ensures top billing as the holder with the special name leapfrogs over seniors into a leadership position.

Take a look at present-day and future leaders. In Punjab, chief minister and Shiromani Akali Dal chief Prakash Singh Badal's son, Sukhbir, is the deputy CM and first-in-line to the throne. In Maharashtra, NCP chief Sharad Pawar's daughter, Supriya Sule and nephew, Ajit Pawar, are waiting to share the Maratha legacy. On the other side of the political fence, two Thackeray cousins are fighting it out to inherit old man Bal Thackeray's mantle as Shiv Sena supremo.

A little further south, in Andhra Pradesh, the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's son, Jaganmohan, is giving the Congress sleepless nights by mounting a strong challenge to claim his father's fiefdom. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK is rocked by a battle royale in its first family as chief Karunanidhi's two sons fight it out with each other and their half sister, Kanimozhi, for the right to lead the party.

Or look at the so-called Young Turks in the union council of ministers. Human resource development minister Pallam Raju's father, M Sanjeevi Rao, was a union minister in Indira Gandhi's government. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari's maternal grandfather, Sardar Tirath Singh, was a minister in a Congress government in Punjab. Sachin Pilot is the son of late Congress minister Rajesh Pilot while Jitin Prasada's father, Jitendra Prasada, was a senior Congress leader and political advisor to two Congress prime ministers.

British historian and author Patrick French notes in his book, India: A Portrait, that some 30 per cent of the 545 members of the current Lok Sabha entered politics through family connections. And it cuts across party lines with even the CPI(M) and the BJP being prone to the seduction of a well-known family lineage.

So, how does a wannabe politician survive in this closed group? It's difficult but it can be done as has been ironically shown by some of our leading women politicians. Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and BSP boss Mayawati came from nowhere but could bid for the prime minister's post if the next Lok Sabha election throws up a fractured mandate.

There are three ways of getting ahead in the political rat race without a family name to coast on. One is to have money and be willing to spend it. The Rajya Sabha has its share of corporate czars like Kingfisher's Vijay Mallya, media baron Vijay Darda and K D Singh of Republic of Chicken fame. There was a time when Reliance's Anil Ambani found his way to the House of Elders, till he decided politics wasn't worth his while or money.

The other is to find a mentor. This is the route that Jayalalithaa and Mayawati took. Jayalalithaa was nurtured by the late M G Ramachandran who founded the AIADMK while Mayawati was a protêgê of BSP founder Kanshi Ram.

Although MGR's wife, Janaki Ramachandra, fought tooth and nail to take over her husband's political legacy when he died, the party knew who his chosen successor was and closed ranks behind Jayalalithaa. Kanshi Ram too anointed Mayawati heir and once his health started failing, she took over but crafter her own brand of politics.

The third is to muck around in street politics and to persist till something gives. This requires grit, determination and a whole lot of luck. That's Mamata Banerjee. She's led bandhs that have turned violent, she's gone deep into Maoist territory to take on the Left in Bengal, she's shrieked her way into newspaper headlines but she's never said die. She boasts of receiving 46 stitches in her head after she was brutally assaulted by the police in one of her anti-Left demonstrations in Bengal. Clearly, family legacy can help you only so far.

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