At least 15 newly elected legislators in the 81-member Jharkhand Assembly are dynasts. Of these, seven are from the Bharatiya Janata Party, six from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and two from the Indian National Congress, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of electoral data.
The results of the elections to the Jharkhand assembly were declared on December 23, and the JMM-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance won 47 of 81 seats. The BJP, which was voted out of power, won 25 seats of the 79 seats where it fielded candidates.
A ‘dynast’, for the purpose of this article, refers to any politician whose father or spouse was or is in electoral politics. The data set does not capture extended family relationships. The figures, therefore, are possibly an underestimate.
Overall, at least 28 of the candidates fielded by prominent political parties belong to political families. Of these, 15 were elected as Members of Legislative Assembly, our analysis showed.
The results are not an acceptance or rejection of political dynasties, Rahul Verma, political scientist and Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, said.
“State politics across India is shaped by local factors more than is often assumed, particularly in times of plebiscitary politics and in Jharkhand, the number of seats retained by MLAs across parties is significantly higher than in most other Hindi-belt states,” said Gilles Verniers, head of the Department of Political Science at Ashoka University.
Many seats tend to be dominated by the same group, caste or tribe over time, he said, and political families or dynasticism contribute to strengthening the hold that certain local communities have over their political environment.
“The research on this area [dynasticism] has documented the negative implications of having a dynast as slower economic development in the area,” Verma said. “Political dynasties in democracies are a norm and it has flourished everywhere, be it the US or UK, and India is not an exception to that trend.”
Rhetoric versus reality
At least 11 of the 79 candidates fielded by the BJP were from a political family, as per our analysis, with inputs from Ashoka University and research by National Alliance of People’s Movements, Jharkhand. Of these, seven were elected.
“Vote for the ‘Lotus’ to ensure that the dynasts do not come back to power and the prosperity of the region increases manifold,” BJP campaigner and Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani, said at a rally on December 8, 2019.
Similarly, at least nine of JMM’s 43 candidates were from political families. Of these, six were elected, including Hemant Soren, son of three-time chief minister and party chief Shibu Soren.
The INC contested in 31 seats and fielded at least three dynastic candidates, of which two were elected.
“When it comes to fielding dynastic candidates, the BJP does not differ significantly from its opponents,” Verniers said. “Dynasticism is simply one factor of winnability of candidates among others and given the choice, the BJP would usually prefer to field a dynastic candidate over non-dynastic candidates. However, the number of candidates and MLAs who belong to political families is not particularly high overall so one should not make more of this issue than it deserves.”
“The BJP has been using the ‘political dynasty’ rhetoric to target the Congress party and Gandhi family,” Verma said. “However, there is a difference between political parties controlled by political families and candidates with family linkages. For BJP and Left, the party is not family-controlled, but they do have candidates with family linkages in elections. Most of the regional parties and Congress have a political family at the top.”
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.