Odd as it might appear, but Bahujan Samaj Party, which is accused by its opponents of selling tickets to candidates, is actually the one party that seems least affected by nepotism. The other two major contenders for power in Uttar Pradesh – Samajwadi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party – are the worst when it comes to promoting political dynasties through distribution of tickets.

So far, the BJP has announced tickets for 371 candidates for the 403-member Assembly seats that go to polls, and at least 39 of them have gone to the relatives of senior party leaders.

The number, amounting to over 10% of the total tickets distributed by the party so far, is a reflection of the enduring power of families in the BJP – a fact that the saffron outfit has always refused to accept.

Apart from the prominent examples of such candidates – Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh and former UP Chief Minister and current Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh’s relatives Anita Lodhi Rajput and Sandeep Singh, there are many highly localised political families, and their influence is clearly visible in the distribution of party tickets.

Promotion of nepotism in such a large number may appear at odds with the public posturing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appealed to party leaders in the recently concluded BJP national executive meeting in Delhi not to seek tickets for their sons, daughters and other relatives. Even otherwise, Modi has been said to be against encouraging members of the same family from being given prominence in party or government.

That this ticket distribution could happen without the consent of the prime minister is, however, difficult to believe. What is not clear is whether he was forced to bow down to the power of families in the party or encouraged it in his desperation to seek maximum winnability for the crucial Assembly elections in UP, particularly as he is on the back foot because of the toll demonetisation has taken on the economy.

The Yadavs

In case of the Samajwadi Party, it has always been the family first. Bitter division in the family of party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav – between his brother Shivpal Yadav and son Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav – virtually disappeared when it came to the distribution of tickets.

The SP has once again fielded Shivpal Yadav from Jaswantnagar in Etawah district – a stronghold of the party. The constituency was represented by him in 2012 as well. In addition, the party has fielded Aparna Yadav, wife of Prateek Yadav, Mulayam’s son from his second wife, as well as party general secretary Ramgopal Yadav’s nephew Anshul Yadav.

Besides Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, at least eight other family members are already in politics. With Aparna Yadav and Anshul Yadav, the figure has goes into double digits.

Apart from the first family of the SP, Akhilesh Yadav has also accommodated generously the associated families of senior leaders who are close to the ruling Yadav clan. Prominent among such candidates are Abdullah Azam (the son of the party’s muslim face Azam Khan) and senior party leader Naresh Agrawal’s son Nitin Agrawal.

The list also includes at least 22 other candidates who are directly related to senior SP leaders.

Family business

As for the BSP, its founder Kanshi Ram was strictly against allowing political families to develop roots in politics. To set an example, he even severed ties with his family in order to devote himself to politics. The party’s present chief Mayawati followed her mentor in not letting her family enter into electoral fray, but she could not live up to the principle laid down by the BSP founder.

Thus, for the upcoming Assembly elections in UP, Mayawati has allotted a total of 15 seats to candidates who are directly related to party leaders.

Though the BSP’s list of such candidates is smaller as compared to those of the BJP and the SP, it is nevertheless in stark opposition to Mayawati’s assertion that nepotism is “taking the nation’s politics into darkness”.

In June last year, when party leader Swami Prasad Maurya walked out, accusing Mayawati of “auctioning tickets”, the BSP chief claimed that Maurya had left the party because she had refused to give tickets to his son Utkhrishta and daughter Sanghmitra to contest Assembly elections. “BSP does not promote nepotism in politics,” she asserted, adding: “I have kept my relatives and family members away from elections of MPs and MLAs.”

In practice, however, she could not dispense with power of families altogether – perhaps because it brings into play advantages of kinship and personal connections that have great bearing on elections.

Political dynasties were supposed to disappear as ordinary people got the right to vote, but they have stayed and flourished and are in full display in Uttar Pradesh. Whichever way the election goes, political dynasties, which are out to turn politics into a closed shop, are unlikely to lose.