Families in fights

Family-owned parties invariably go through a period of uncertainty over succession when the leader is no longer in a position to command the troops. In this respect, the cadre-based parties have an advantage. Both the BJP and the communists are spared the ugly tussle since the succession is decided by polling opinion of the stakeholders or through widest possible consensus. Not so in the family-run enterprises. Indeed, barring the BJP and the fast shrinking Communist parties there is hardly any party which is not a close family affair.

Recall how the Telugu Desam Party of the late N T Rama Rao was thrown into convulsions when a couple of years before his death he contracted marriage and wanted to anoint his latest wife as his successor. It is then that son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu grabbed control of the TDP and ousted NTR’s widow. Once her rival TDP proved a complete dud, Lakshmi disappeared from the scene. We know what happened in the Shiv Sena. Even before his death, Balasaheb Thackeray had ejected the pretender nephew out of the party, preferring his son over him. Indeed, a spate of resignations by senior leaders of the Akali Dal in recent days are linked to the tightening grip of the extended Badal family on the party. The last straw for these came when apparently Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law began to assert himself — it was okay till Prakash Singh Badal’s son, but the latter’s saala was too much for the self-respect of senior Akalis.

Before we come to the on-going hostilities within the Laloo Yadav parivaar, let us note the power struggle in the late Tau Devi Lal’s family for the control of the Indian National Lok Dal. When he was still alive, after a bitter tussle among Devi Lal’s sons, Om Prakash Chautala, Ranjit Singh and Pratap Singh, the issue was settled in favour of the former. The other two sons quietly faded away. Now, it seems, it is the turn of Chautala’s sons who are having it out over their father’s political legacy. The succession battle between nephew and uncle in Samajwadi Party was played out in public, with Akhilesh Yadav grabbing the party and a disgruntled uncle left sulking in his teny to plot the downfall of the ambitious Akhilesh. The patriarch Mulayam maintained an ambivalent stance, torn between the son and the brother. Now, Shivpal Yadav, the vanquished uncle, has floated his own separate outfit which threatens to pull down Akhilesh before he can establish himself as a leader in his own right. There are far too many examples of succession wars in family-run enterprises. Recall how Indira Gandhi had settled for the younger son Sanjay as her successor till he died in an air accident. His widow, Maneka, wanted to be the Congress Party’s number two, but Indira Gandhi preferred elder son, Rajiv. What followed was an ugly fight played out in the open until Maneka was physically evicted from Indira Gandhi’s prime ministerial house. We can mention here also about DMK patriarch the late Karunanidhi settling for the younger son, Stalin, as his successor, with the elder son from another wife, raising the banner of revolt. Karunanidhi is dead but M K Azhagiri remains embittered and unready to accept Stalin as the DMK boss.

The above, by no means, is a complete catalogue of the tussles among siblings over succession in parties which ironically claim to be democratic. The succession bug has hit the corruption convict Laloo Yadav’s Rashtriya Janta Dal. His two sons are in a bitter public fight for the control of the RJD, though Laloo had anointed the younger son, Tejaswi, as the heir apparent. Tej Pratap, has is not ready to step aside or play second fiddle to the younger sibling. It may be just a coincident but Tej Pratap has become far more assertive, seeking to control the family-run firm after his recent marriage to the daughter of a former Bihar minister. Misa Devi, Laloo’s daughter who is a Rajya Sabha member, recently admitted that there are differences within the family as to who shall control RJD. How this battle will end cannot be said, but in the short term maybe the jailed Laloo can assign his wife, Rabri Devi, to manage the party while keeping the two sons in secondary positions. Meanwhile, with a plethora family-owned parties is it any surprise that our democracy is in rather poor condition. Birth over merit belongs to a pre-democratic age.