Political Dynasticism: Networks, Trust, Risk

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
AuthorArild Engelsen Ruud,Kenneth Bo Nielsen
Subject MatterSpecial Section on Dynasticism in Politics
Political Dynasticism: Networks,
Trust, Risk
Arild Engelsen Ruud1
Kenneth Bo Nielsen1
Political dynasticism is a persuasive phenomenon in South Asia. Yet, while political dynasticism has
received ample attention at the national level, it has been almost systematically overlooked at the
regional and local levels. In this article, we argue that political dynasticism at the local level is driven
by conditions that are in crucial ways different from those that animate national politics. We use case
studies and insights from the available literature both within and beyond South Asia to argue that, in a
comparative light, three main elements stand out: reciprocity, trust, and failure. By zooming in on these
elements we seek to explain political dynasticism as a political phenomenon that is enabled by particular
conditions in the polity, and especially the nature of the state. These, we argue, help foment a dynamic
within which political dynasticism is an understandable outcome.
Dynasticism, India, networks, trust, the state, dynastic politics
Political dynasticism is persuasive in South Asia. But most political dynasties are not ‘national’; they are
local, forming in states or districts or even single constituencies. Focusing exclusively on elected mem-
bers of parliament (MP) or national leaders thus misses out on the social, economic and political dynam-
ics in which political dynasties form, thrive or wither. This collection of ethnographically based case
studies of five local political dynasties drives home three points. First, political dynasties are part of
larger networks based on reciprocity, a mesh of relationships in which family relations constitute a com-
mon form. Political and non-political dynasticism blend together, and non-political dynasticism is both
common and accepted. Our argument is that they blend because the distinction between political and
non-political dynasticism is a false one. The networks that dynasties cater to do not follow neat lines of
distinction between the political and the non-political. Second, a dynast holds together a network, and it
is the network that is passed on to the heir or that in some cases selects the heir. Dynasticism is, in other
Studies in Indian Politics
6(2) 157–167
© 2018 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797407
1 Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, Norway.
Corresponding author:
Arild Engelsen Ruud, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo, Norway.
E-mail: a.e.ruud@ikos.uio.no

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