One thing can be said in Narendra Modi’s favor. He has made political dynasts the object of social media sneers and symbols of unmerited inheritances. It may be another matter that the Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi might be far better educated and genuinely qualified. But it is Modi who is seen as the one with merit, because he came up the hard way.

In a country where over a million candidates sit for the extrance exam to qualify for a few hundred places in the Indian Institutes of Technology and where the winnowing process of selection for just about every admission or opening is very severe, be it a government medical college or the civil services or even to become a jawan in the military or the police, the importance of being perceived as having merit cannot be ignored. Modi’s chaiwalla story is more compelling than that of Rahul Gandhi’s Doon School dynast.

The growing rejection of dynastic fate is in evidence all over the new India. The new economic and social realities are compelling change. In a country where almost 70% of the population is below the age of 30, the imagery of having merit is very powerful. Egypt’s former King Farouq once said that in the end there would be only five kings – the King of England and four in the pack of cards. The same can be said of political dynasties. They are fast growing out of fashion.

Rejecting dynasts

But make no mistake. Some inheritances are legitimate. A corporate scion is not perceived as not having merit. Movie actors who inherit looks and networks, and doctors and lawyers who inherit practices are seen as legitimate inheritors till their lack of merit shows up. But in the democratic age, when the doting parent or the fawning courtiers thrust a son or daughter onto the public stage, that is not seen as acceptable. Political parties are not royal courts where a hapless Mohammed Shah Rangila or an indolent Bahadur Shah Zafar can be forced down upon a nation.

Indians have a way of showing how they feel about this. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter, Kavita was rejected in Nizamabad. In Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party won while his daughter-in-law was defeated.

Rahul Gandhi rightly abdicated the Congress presidency after the party was soundly beaten in the last elections. This was a moment for the Congress to reinvent itself or go back to the past when it had a real inner party democratic process and debate. How did Sonia Gandhi become the president once again? At a recent press meeting, the handpicked working committee had a sullen unanimity in its predictable diatribe against the badly floundering Modi government. The Congress leadership resolved that it would create a new Congress Seva Dal to replicate the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s booth-level election fighting machine. Clearly the analysis was that it was the Hindutva organisation’s grassroots organisation that won the elections for its sister organisation, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi’s charisma

Nothing could be further from the truth. What won the elections was the demagogic charisma of Modi who cast a spell with a mishmash of religious rhetoric, outright lies and distortion of not only the ancient past but even recent history. The challenge for the Congress is to create a competitive imagery that will rekindle the magic it had once cast to combat the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s pernicious ideology. If it can do that, the election fighting booth-level machine will automatically come together. In the modern age, the currency that will keep troops motivated and fighting are ideas and dreams. The problem is that the Congress still thinks currency is the only king.

What the Congress needs now is an ideological and social contrast to the BJP, someone who can dismiss the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mythology with the contempt it deserves. The Congress stable of princelings such as Jyothiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Mukul Wasnik and Rahul Gandhi cannot do it. Unfortunately, the Congress behaves like the latter-day Mughals, with a durbar in place of an empire.