In another highlight of his otherwise fledgling political career, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was at his best in front of a predominantly American crowd at the University of California, Berkeley earlier this week, where he, apart from raising a number of important questions, also invoked the idea of dynasty and called it a pan-Indian phenomenon that could be found as much in Bollywood as in politics.
Rahul Gandhi comes from a family of former prime ministers - his father Rajiv Gandhi, grandmother Indira Gandhi, and great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru. His mother Sonia Gandhi inherited the Congress, albeit reluctantly, more than a decade ago. Rahul's surname ensures he is all set to carry on the family legacy of leading the party for some time. At 46, he also has age on his side.
"This is a problem that is present in all political parties in India. Akhilesh Yadav is a dynast. (MK) Stalin is a dynast. Mr (Prem Kumar) Dhumal's son is a dynast. Even Abhishek Bachchan is a dynast. Don't go after me because the entire country is running like that. That's what happens in India," he said.
As soon as Rahul made the remarks, the BJP, which differentiates itself from most political parties on the question of political inheritance, went to town in India, claiming a higher moral ground and attacking the Congress for being a family-run enterprise.
A dynasty in the political sense is defined by a family or a surname controlling a party.
It's an erroneous self-righteousness. The BJP is as much a dynasty as any other political party. In fact, it can even be argued that it encourages the worst form of nepotism and out-of-turn promotion in politics. Moreover, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is as much a dynast as Rahul or anybody the latter named in his Berkeley speech.
A dynasty in the political sense is defined by a family or a surname controlling a party, and ensuring its members inherit it. It encourages a certain kind of feudalism, where kinship and blood-relations mean more than merit.
If that is taken as the definition of a dynasty, where do we place the BJP's ideological mentor as well as the reservoir of its leadership - the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or the Sangh "Parivar"? For a patriarchal organisation like the RSS that encourages celibacy, there are surely no offsprings to promote.
But it still has thousands of members - closely tied, vowed to a certain ideology, and proclaiming themselves to be a Sangh worker above and before anything else. Considering the unprecedented way the RSS has now taken hold of the BJP by providing it Union and chief ministers in most states the party has won recently, the case for calling RSS as part of India's dynasty culture only gets stronger.
While the BJP too has its own set of dynasts, it has often cited Modi as a man who rose up to political stardom purely on merit and not because of a lineage. The truth is far from that. Let's look at his trajectory.
Towards the end of 2001 in poll-bound Gujarat, a man, who so far was a senior RSS worker and "key strategist" for the BJP, was appointed the chief minister of Gujarat. He was not even a MLA in the state Assembly at that moment, only a glorified "event manager" as LK Advani had put it later.
Advani reportedly did not want Modi to become the chief minister. Modi lacked experience in governance, Advani had argued. Of course, Modi - and the RSS - prevailed. Less than six months later, Gujarat 2002 happened, an event that Modi presided over, thereby cementing his position as the unchallenged champion of the Hindu Rashtra dream.
If Rahul Gandhi is criticised for inheriting his party because of his birth, can't the same argument be made for Modi whose meteoric rise in politics happened because of the RSS?
In a country where easy and superficial definitions of a dynasty are thrown around in TV debates and social media discussions, the constitution of the RSS that functions as an aristocracy within the hierarchy of the Sangh Parivar is perhaps deliberately ignored. More so, when that organisation refuses to call itself a political platform.
Why is it then that the role of the RSS as the parent organisation (note the word) of India's ruling party is not properly questioned in public domain? And why shouldn't the RSS be subjected to the same scrutiny that most dynasties face?
What happened with Modi in 2002 is now a trend. From Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, Mohan Lal Khattar in Haryana, to Raghubar Das in Jharkhand - we have seen the rise of RSS men to prominence, with some of those appointments even ignoring the popular mood in their states. The president of India, Ram Nath Kovind, is a senior RSS member - only an indication of how far the syndicate has come.
For Modi as much as Rahul, it's all in the family. Parivar, if you will.