I have often heard people complain about the dynastic nature of Congress and how many Indians fall for the Nehru-Gandhi clan’s charm. The question is does that mean that democracy has not truly deepened in India? While there are many other indicators of the shallowness of the Indian democracy, a vote for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty may not be one of them!
In an interesting paper on dynastic choice, Tim Besley and Reynal-Querol address this choice of a leader from dynasty by looking at data across countries since late 1840s. Acknowledging that political leaders who are part of a dynasty have been an important feature of the political landscape throughout history, they argue that dynastic selection can play a role in improving economic performance when institutions for controlling politicians are weak and policy-making skills are persistent within a dynasty. Testing this idea empirically using a sample of leaders between 1848 and 2004, they show that economic growth is higher in polities with dynastic leaders but only when executive constraints are weak. They also find evidence that dynasties end when the economic performance of dynastic leaders is poor suggesting that citizens are tolerant of selection in dynasties when economic performance is good.
So, keeping in line with this finding, it looks like choice of a leader from Nehru-Gandhi clan may actually have been a rational one, since people did not trust the ability of Indian institutions to control other politicians. Also, it made sense if status-quo on economic growth was maintained. In the recent times, however, that confidence seems to be waning. It might be because the likelihood of having a viable candidate from the clan is perceived to be very low. Rahul Gandhi just does not seem to fit the bill! Also, public activism through anti-corruption movements, judicial activism by the Supreme court, etc might have increased people’s confidence to control other politicians from non-Congress background.
This means that NaMo might stand a chance after all! Given the rise of AAP, NaMo better rise to the challenge though or else BJP might as well write off any future chances of forming a government at the center. The AAP, Congress, and people at large are going to watch for any slip-up very closely and it is not going to overlooked in future elections.