August 10, 2011

INDIA: Family Politics

For a summary of Family Politics, read on, and for the FULL DATASET, click here. For more about India: A Portrait by Patrick French, click here.

‘French’s database will go a long way in explaining who governs India to the world. He doesn’t say that hereditary MPs are bad, nor that they should not stand for election. Rather, he shows how political success depends on who your parents are … The importance of this data for students of political science cannot be over-estimated – not because one out of six people in the world is an Indian, but because, as French notes, one out of every two people living in a democracy is an Indian.’

-The Independent

How open is the Indian political system? Yes, it is the world’s largest democracy and everyone has a right to vote – and that is a precious thing. But does everyone really have an opportunity to stand for Parliament? You can vote, but what are the chances you will ever be voted for?

While researching his new book India: A Portrait – published in India and the UK in January 2011 by Penguin, and forthcoming in the USA from Knopf in June 2011 – Patrick French (@PatrickFrench2 on Twitter) conducted a one-of-its kind survey which tried to answer the following question: What does it take to join politics at the national level today? Is it within or out of reach for the many millions of capable Indians who might like to throw a hat in the ring?

Once the information about all 545 MPs in the Lok Sabha was received, tabulated and analyzed, the political background was classified into 9 categories. No significant family background: MPs who had made their way on their own ability; Business; Family: MPs who owe their access to the political system to their family background (also called hereditary MPs or HMPs for our survey); Inducted: MPs who were usually actors/actresses/cricketers or had parachuted into Parliament; Maoist Commander; Royal family; RSS; Student politics; Trade union.

At first glance, it appears that less than half of all MPs in the current Lok Sabha have entered politics through the grassroots:


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46.8% of the MPs have no significant family political background. Three out of ten MPs (28.6%) entered politics through family connections. This did not seem a surprising statistic, but further investigation revealed more.

Breaking down the data further, we found that an alarming 69.5% of women MPs came into politics through family connections. After the 108th Constitution Amendment (passed by the Indian Parliament in 2010 to reserve 33 per cent of seats in national and state-elected bodies for women) is implemented, this number is likely to rise further.

Then came a much more disturbing piece of information: A disaggregated analysis of the political background of MPs with age suggests that there is a direct linear relationship between age and hereditary MPs: a greater proportion of younger MPs have a family political background, in comparison to others. So if you are young and want to join national politics, one of the only available routes seems to be through family connections. Take a look at this:

  • ~ All MPs whose age is less than 30 years are hereditary.
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  • ~ More than two-thirds of MPs aged under 40 are hereditary.
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  • ~ 27 MPs are ‘hyperhereditary’, and 19 of them are in the Congress party. By hyperhereditary, we mean that they have several family members who have made a career out of politics.

The average age of a hereditary MP is 48 years, whereas the average age of an MP with no significant family background is 58 years. Since a hereditary MP is likely to join parliament at an early age, this translates into a decade of political advantage for him/her.

So which parties practice family politics? Congress leads the way in dynasty politics. All 11 Congress MPs under 35 years are hereditary.

Almost nine out of every ten (88%) Congress MPs under 40 are hereditary and the percentage increases as age reduces. The near perfect linear relationship is illustrated in the following graph:

The proportion of hereditary MPs in Congress (37.5%) is approximately equal to the proportion of Congress MPs who do not have any significant family background (40.4%).

And what about the regional parties?

Regional parties have a higher incidence of hereditary MPs, in comparison to the national parties. Here are some statistics:

So are some states in India more dynastic than others? Click here to read more. And to see more on our new findings, that a hyper-hereditary MP (HHMP), or one who has multiple family connections in politics, is THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to become a minister, click here.

Or to learn about different aspects of India: A Portrait,

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