Atanu Dey On India's Development

Leadership through inheritance is a compelling sign of a poor or a declining nation

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Ruling a banana republic does not require special qualifications

Item: Captain John Wright, 58, is retiring as a senior pilot. He has had a distinguished flying career with 35 years of sitting in the left hand seat in the cockpit, much of it of heavies like the Boeing 747s and Airbus 340s. But it’s time that he hangs up his wings and retires from a job well done. Bluesky Air, the airline that Captain Wright served so competently, has announced that on Capt Wright’s retirement next month, his seat will be occupied by his son Jack. Jack will move from his job as a janitor at Burger King to be the chief pilot at Bluesky Air. He will fly the planes that his father flew.

Item: Dr Lovelace, 62, winner of the Nobel prize in medicine 2002 for his pioneering brain surgery technique, has a daughter, Ada, who works at K-Mart as a greeter in Hicksville, OH. She is very pretty and cute. The Nobel committee has considered the matter in depth and determined that the 2003 Nobel prize in medicine will be awarded to Ms Ada Lovelace. She will be performing brain surgery at the Sloan-Kettering hospital.

Item: Mr Lallu Reddy, 61, the prime minister of the People’s Democratic Banana Republic of Pooristan, was assassinated recently. Mr Reddy’s corrupt governance kept Pooristan among the least developed countries in the world. Following his demise, his son Ballu Reddy, 22, was popularly elected as the prime minister. Ballu will make time from his occupation of womanizing and general debauchery to take up his father’s job of ruling Pooristan.

You know that the first two scenarios are as unlikely to happen as pigs growing wings and flying. Not in the wildest fantasies would it happen that people’s lives are put at risk by giving a job that requires years of hard training to someone’s unqualified son or daughter. It never happens that way.

The third scenario, however, is not far-fetched at all. In your average banana republic, it is rather common for the son or daughter of a corrupt tyrant to inherit the job of misruling the country. The only special talent required for the job is that one is especially devoid of all morality and conscience. It is not as if keeping a desperately poor country desperately poor takes any effort. If the father could steal billions without too much trouble, the son can do it too. The son knows how he did it, and so can he. The father developed that skill and the son got to see how it works. He got to know all the crooked people that his esteemed dad did business with. He inherited all the contacts that his father had. That’s perhaps as striking an example of Lamarckian evolution — the inheritance of acquired characteristics — as one can find anywhere.

It would have been a different matter if the prime minister of a country had done a great job of hauling the country from poverty to prosperity. That would be a tough act to follow, and it is unlikely that the progeny of an able leader would also be a great leader. That unlikeliness or improbability gets compounded when successive generations of the great leader’s descendants are considered. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was a great leader. I doubt that his great-grandchildren are anything but average.

Leadership through inheritance is a compelling sign of a poor or a declining nation.

Consider this. Jawaharlal Nehru first, and then his daughter, and then his grandson, and then his grandson’s Italian wife, and then quite possibly his Italian-Indian great-grandson — a succession of inept corrupt people ensuring that India remains impoverished. It’s a job that does not require any special talent; only a marked lack of morality and conscience.

One wonders which came first: corrupt leaders or the poor country. Nehru was perhaps not corrupt although he was certainly incompetent. He was incompetent and how. His incompetence was all encompassing. Domestic affairs, international affairs, economic policies, military policies, international trade, social development — you name it and he was incompetent in it. But in all likelihood he was not corrupt.

Nehru’s progeny not only matched his incompetency but also descended into corruption. With each successive generation, they sank deeper into unfathomable corruption. Indira was corrupt but it did not make the newspaper headlines. She had a firm grip on what the public was allowed to know. But when the going got tough for her, she did what the dictators of banana republics do: ruthlessly suppress any dissent by declaring emergency.

The level of corruption goes up a few orders of magnitude with each generation. Under Antonia Maino, aka Sonia Gandhi, the current corruption deals are of the order of tens of billions of dollars. During her husband’s rule, it was only in the hundred million-dollar range. One doesn’t know for sure but my guess would be that her son’s reign may push the numbers to hundreds of billions of dollars. India is after all a growing economy, and if someone does not rob the country of its wealth, it is in real danger of getting out of poverty. And if that happens, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the Gandhi family. Their rule depends on mass poverty and ignorance.

It is remarkable how the corrupt leaders of third world countries meet very sticky ends. It is especially so in the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh, Pakistan, India. Military coups are routine in the two Islamic republics. In India, if your last name is Gandhi, you are more likely to be a leader and commensurately more likely to die violently. It is like being in the mafia. While you live, you live high on the hog. When you die, you die like a stuck pig.

So here’s a question. Which came first: the poverty or the corrupt leaders? I think that they are both involved in circular causation. But the start of the cycle must have been incompetence. Incompetent leaders cause poverty which leads to corrupt leaders which cause poverty . . . Is there a way out?

{This is a recycled item — it is a modified version of a piece posted first on this blog in Jan 2011, and recently this appeared in Niti Central.}

  • sandeep

    Great article ! Hope NaMo delivers the right punch to knock this dynasty off India’s future … but the people of India has to rise to the occasion and this is still unsure … :|