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Theorizing Interactions


By Kanchan Chandra
2016, Cambridge University Press, 2016, pp. 279, Rs. 5691.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 10 October 2016

'Dynastic politics is a termite that eats away the foundation of democracy,’ asserted the Prime Minister of India,Narendra Modi, addressing an election rally in Sangai Mandli area of Billawar constituency, in December 2014, in the run-up to the State assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.1 This was not the first time that the issue of dynastic politics found mention during the electoral battle in India. In fact, the BJP leadership had made it one of the core issues during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections to target its principal opponent, the Congress. While the Congress led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is one of the most prominent political dynasties in India, there are several others at the national and regional level, spread across parties with an increasing number in the Indian legislature. It is in this context that there has been a growing interest in academic circles in the last few years over the issue and some serious research has been taken up to investigate the phenomenon of dynasticism in democracy and the interactions between these two. Democratic Dynasties, State, Party and Family in Contemporary Indian Politics edited by Kanchan Chandra is one such work that makes an attempt to create ‘a foundation for theorizing about, and testing for, these interactions between institutions, democracy, and dynasty’ (pp. xxi). The volume proposes an institutionalist theory of the relationship between dynastic and democratic politics, while searching for the causes and consequences of ‘democratic dynasties’, using data of composition of the previous Lok Sabha between 2004 to 2014. At the very outset, Chandra refuses to buy the cultural essentialist interpretation of dynastic politics in India (p. 6) and suggests that the ‘relationship between democratic and dynastic politics, and the cultural norms and practices that support this relationship, is an interactive one’ (p. 7). In the introductory chapter titled ‘Democratic Dynasties’, she traces the causes of dynastic politics in Indian Parliament to the two democratic institutions, namely, the state and the political parties. She suggests that dynasticism in Indian Parliament is not a result of some cultural preference for family-based politics, but of high returns associated with state office and the organizational weakness of political parties. As far as the effect of dynastic politics on democracy is concerned, the various articles in this volume as a whole propose a mixed response. In the words of Chandra, ‘It amplifies some forms of exclusion while simultaneously creating opportunities for inclusion’ of certain groups ...

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