The Family Way: Manhood and Dabangai in the Making of a Dynasty in Uttar Pradesh

Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
AuthorSatendra Kumar
Subject MatterSpecial Section on Dynasticism in Politics
The Family Way: Manhood and
Dabangai in the Making of a
Dynasty in Uttar Pradesh
Satendra Kumar1
Only looking at the Congress Party can obscure the fact that political dynasties, in different forms and
degrees, exist in a number of political parties in India. There are many examples of political families
ruling the roost across the states but digging deeper shows us that the malaise goes to the village level
as well. Therefore, to completely examine the extent to which Indian politics is dynastic, this article
investigates strategies and networks of a local political dynasty in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh
(UP). It explores how a family, by getting elected its sons into the local political bodies, becomes a
powerful political dynasty over a period of time and how entry of this dynasty into the Indian political
system is assisted by political parties and caste associations. Furthermore, this article shows the ways in
which popular notions of leadership and manhood play important role in the making of a dynast along
with the importance of dynastic ties for the marginalized rather than privileged groups.
Political dynasty, electoral democracy, masculinity, family, violent entrepreneur, Uttar Pradesh
On an afternoon of February 2017, when the election campaign for the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Legislative
Assembly was at its peak, addressing a political rally in Mubarakpur (a Muslim neighbourhood at the
outskirts of the Meerut city), Haji Yasin Qureshi, a ‘low’ caste Muslim leader, posed a question: ‘If the
son of a doctor can become a doctor and people have no objection to accept son of a lawyer in his father’s
profession, why the son of a politician cannot be a politician?’ Once the rally was over, several members
of the audience and supporters of Yasin expressed their agreement with his argument. ‘Haji sir is
absolutely right. If the son of a farmer can take over his father’s profession, then why cannot the son of
a politician?’ said a political supporter of Haji Yasin Qureshi in a bold voice. Yasin’s remark reflected
larger Indian political reality and voters seemed to agree with his argument.
1 Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India; Fellow, IIAS, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh,
This article is based on field research conducted between September 2004 and August 2005 and between June 2013 and March
2015 in the Meerut City.
Studies in Indian Politics
6(2) 180–195
© 2018 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2321023018797414
Corresponding author:
Satendra Kumar, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, University of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh 211019, India.
Kumar 181
Yasin had been canvassing for his son who contested election under the banner of Rashtriya Lok Dal
(RLD) for the Sardhana (rural Meerut) Legislative Assembly seat. A large section of rural and urban
voters did not find anything wrong with Yasin campaigning for his son. One of them told me that it is a
‘natural’ act when a father works for his son’s success. The statement underlines that dynasties are not
anathema to the voters.
However, recently, a section of voters in Meerut has been very critical of the dynasty rule. These
critical voices found echo in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech where he derisively referred to
Rahul Gandhi as shahzada or prince during the 2014 Lok Sabha election and successfully created mass
emotion against a dynast and a dynasty rule. Yet, ironically, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has
given party tickets to a slew of dynasts in 2017 UP and other assembly elections. Moreover, many
regional parties have also found themselves controlled by political dynasties—be it the Telugu Desam
Party (TDP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Shiromani Akali Dal,
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC), Biju Janata
Dal (BJD) or Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). Family not only matters but calls the shots.
In UP, nearly two dozen people related to Mulayam Singh Yadav hold political positions. His son,
Akhilesh Yadav, was the Chief Minister of UP for 5 years, while his brother was a senior minister in the
state for several years. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, only Yadav family won five seats for the Samajwadi
Party (SP). When Mulayam Singh Yadav, a low caste, who had won from two constituencies, vacated
one of them, SP nominated his nephew Tej Pratap Yadav to fight the by-elections. There are many
examples of political families ruling the roost across the states, but digging deeper shows that the malaise
goes till the village level.
Dynastic politics are usually thought of as the antithesis of democratic politics. However, political
dynasties can be found across the world in democratic countries (Dal Bo, Dal Bo, & Snyder, 2009).
While there are differences, political dynasticism in electoral democracies seems to be spreading not
only in South Asia but in other parts of the world also. Mainstream theories on the role of dynastic poli-
tics in democracies largely emphasize on the organizational weakness of political parties (Chibber,
2011). These theories also suggest that the large returns associated with state office ensure that the fami-
lies of politicians will want to enter politics (Chandra & Wamiq, 2011). While these explanations focus
on formal institutions such as political parties and state, they don’t pay adequate attention to the larger
socio-political and economic reality in which formal and informal institutions overlap and shape each
other. Against these mainstream arguments, in this article, I argue that informal community organization,
popular notions of leadership, performance of manhood and community protection may help dynasties
to emerge in an electoral democracy. The article highlights the role of caste associations and religious
organizations that facilitate dynasties in modern electoral politics. It shows ways in which a family, by
getting elected its sons or next generation into the local political bodies, becomes a powerful political
dynasty over a period of time. This article specifically attempts to bring out how dynastic ties matter
more for underprivileged rather than privileged groups. By focusing on political history of a family in
the city of Meerut, North India, it investigates strategies and networks of a local political dynasty.
This article is divided into six sections. The first section provides short political history of UP. The second
section shows the ways in which caste associations assist family dynasties. The third and fourth sections
discuss the role of political parties in the production of political dynasties. The fifth section looks closely
at voters and their cultural imaginations of leadership and manhood, which play decisive role in
generating popular support for dynasts in democracies. The sixth and final section provides concluding
remarks on unintended consequences of dynastic politics.

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