Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Comparing Dynasties: India and Pakistan

It was said in defense of the existence of the Nehru-Gandhi ruling dynasty of the Congress Party in India that political dynasties were common throughout South Asia. This is certainly true in India where politics in the Indian states are usually a family affair with the party founder usually passing on control either to a son or daughter or, if a suitable heir is not available in his immediate family, to a nephew or niece. 

While there are many political dynasties in America with most states possessing at least one, the most successful at the national level has been the Bush family of Connecticut, which has had three generations of politicians in Washington at the senior level starting with Senator Prescott Bush and ending with President George W. Bush, whose younger brother Jeb was also governor of Florida. The Kennedys of Boston, Massachusetts have had three generations but there was a major upgrade from the first to second generation and then a major downgrade to the third generation. Joseph Kennedy was ambassador to London in the late 1930s but ended his political career early when he fell afoul of President Roosevelt and was judged to be a Nazi sympathizer. But three of Joe's sons did quite well: John F. was president from 1961 to 1963, when he was assassinated in Dallas; Robert F. was attorney general under his brother, senator from New York and then the leading contender for the Democratic nomination before he was in turn murdered in June 1968; and Edward M. was one of the longest serving senators in the Senate from 1962 until his death. But the next generation has produced a representative, Patrick, and nothing higher. 

By contrast compare this with the five generations of political activism of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Pater familias Motilal Nehru was a prominent London-educated lawyer practicing in India under the British Raj in the late 19th century and early 20th century. He was from a Brahman or high caste family in Kashmir, but moved to New Delhi to practice law. In the decade following the First World War he was a contemporary of Mohandes Gandhi, the Mohatma, who was the leading figure in the Congress Party. Starting in the mid-1920s he was overshadowed by his eldest son Jawaharlal who became Gandhi's main collaborator and rival in the Congress Party. As Gandhi was more of a religious figure than a practical politician, it was Nehru who became prime minister and foreign minister when India became independent in August 1947. He emphasized a state-managed economy, pluralism, democracy and the non-aligned movement internationally. After being surprised by China's sneak attack along the disputed mountain border with Tibet during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Nehru suffered a heart attack and a broken heart. He died in late May 1964. He was succeeded by a veteran Congress figure, Lal Shastri, who served as prime minister until he in turn died of a heart attack while negotiating with Pakistani leaders in Tashkent in January 1966.

It was at this point that Indira Gandhi, daughter of Nehru, became prime minister and the family became a political dynasty. Gandhi (no relation to Mohandes Gandhi) ruled as prime minister until 1977 when she was finally defeated in an election after an eighteen-month national state of emergency. But she stormed back in 1980 in a very vigorous election campaign to be elected prime minister again. She served for four years until she was murdered in October 1984 by two of her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for her storming the Sikh temple at Amritsar to root out a separatist group that had taken over two months earlier. During the emergency she was grooming her younger son, Sanjay, who was quite headstrong and unsuited for democratic politics, to follow her as national leader. But Sanjay killed himself and a passenger performing acrobatic feats in a stunt plane the first time up in it. His older brother Rajiv was then drafted to serve as the leader of the Congress Party. He was a freshman deputy serving in his dead brother's former seat and an airline pilot by profession. Rajiv served for nearly five years as prime minister before he lost power. Two years later he was assassinated by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber while campaigning to win his old job back. His party went on to win the election in a sympathy vote for the dead opposition leader--a result that likely would not have occurred had he not been murdered. 

His Italian-born widow Sonia, who detested politics, refused to be drafted to take her dead husband's place. But a few years later in 1998 she emerged from mourning  and took over as leader of the Congress Party without ever serving in office. Dressed in a sari, she appeared to millions of India's poor as the reincarnation of her mother-in-law, Madame Indira. In turn Sonia and Rajiv's two children, Rahul and Priyanka, have been groomed for political careers and it is likely that in 2014 Rahul will be the Congress candidate for prime minister. 

By contrast the most successful Pakistani political dynasty, the Bhutto-Zardawi family, has only lasted for two generations. The dynasty was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a scion of a powerful landlord family from Sindh Province. Zulfikar became a professional diplomat and served as foreign minister in the  in the late 1960s, after having served as labor minister. In November 1967 he founded the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). During a national protest against military rule in 1968-69 the PPP led the protest movement and established itself as a national party. In the election in 1970, the first national election after independence in 1947, the PPP emerged as the largest party in West Pakistan, but was far behind the Awami National Party, which swept the board in East Pakistan and won a few seats in the West. Bhutto backed the military's repressive campaign against Bengali Muslims in East Pakistan that led to war with India in early December 1971. India badly defeated the Pakistani army and dismembered Pakistan with East Pakistan emerging as the independent Bangladesh. Bhutto took power after defeated national leader General Yahya Khan resigned in late December. 

Bhutto ruled for less than six years in contrast with Indira Gandhi's fifteen years. He won elections in 1977--they were shamelessly rigged and several of his opponents disappeared under mysterious circumstances, became ill or died. He was overthrown by General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, in July 1977 after his government lost popular support. Zia had him tried for murder for the death of a political opponent and executed on April 4, 1979. Ironically, Bhutto had picked Zia, a religious fanatic, over several more experienced and qualified candidates to be chief of the army staff (COAS) because Bhutto viewed him as pliable. While in prison awaiting execution Zulfikar Bhutto passed on the leadership of the PPP to his eldest daughter Benazir, who was Western educated in London and at Harvard. After going into exile in the Arab Gulf after her father's execution, Benazir returned to Pakistan in 1986 as opposition to military rule was starting to build. She had married Asif Zardari, a scion of a prominent Punjabi family of landowners. In August 1988 Zia and several prominent generals and the American ambassador were killed when their military transport plane crashed, with sabotage being suspected. A few months later elections were held, which the PPP won handily. Benazir Bhutto served for less than two years as the first woman leader of a Muslim country when she was dismissed by the president--the main power that the president had under the Pakistani constitution.  In her place was appointed Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Muslim League of Pakistan and a protege of Zia's.

Parliamentary elections were held in 1993 and the PPP again emerged as the largest party with Benazir Bhutto returning for a second term. She survived a coup d'etat attempt in 1995 but was again fired in 1996 by President Sharif was in turn deposed by President Farooq Leghari in 1996 and Sharif was invited to return as prime minister for a second turn. Sharif was in turn overthrown in a military coup by Pervez Musharraf in 1999. Musharraf decided to carry out a coup after his plane was refused permission to land after returning from a trip abroad.

By 2007 Musharraf and the army had outlasted their initial popular support. Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan mid-October 2007 in the face of threats from Muslim extremists to assassinate her if she returned because they were opposed to a woman ruler. On December she was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in Rawalpindi while campaigning for elections scheduled for mid-January. She was killed by a bomb that went off at a rally that caused her to fatally collide with the roof of the vehicle she was campaigning from. Some in her party claimed she was killed by gun shots but an autopsy ruled this out and supported the government's version. In her will Benazir Bhutto bequeathed her party to her husband until their oldest son was an adult and had graduated from college, then he would take over the party's leadership. Bhutto did posthumously what Indira Gandhi was planning to do in her final years and what her party did for her.

But why only two generations of dynasty for the Bhuttos compared to five generations for the Nehru-Gandhis? The pre-independence Muslim equivalent of the Congress Party in British India was Muhammad Ali Jinnah's Muslim League. It was dominated by Muslims from Utter Pradesh and elsewhere in India that did not become part of Pakistan in 1947. Jinnah died of tuberculosis in 1948 and his chosen successor was assassinated in 1954. Although there was civilian rule in Pakistan from 1947 to 1958, when military rule began following a coup by COAS Field Marshal Ayub Khan, there were no elections. This was democracy without a mandate. Between 1958 and 2008, civilians were in charge in Pakistan for only 17 years compared to 32 for the military. So political parties had to start from scratch from the birth of the PPP in 1968-69. In the eleven years of the third period of civilian rule in Pakistan from 1988 to 1999 Bhutto was only in power for five years with Sharif in power for the other six years.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was no real democrat but rather a champion of the ruling families of West Pakistan. His daughter was corrupt and allowed her husband to enrich himself during her time in power. Zulfikar allied himself with the military and the landlords against the Awami National League after the 1970 election. His daughter aligned herself with a leading family of landlords. Such is the fate of Pakistani politics as it goes back and forth between vested economic interests, the military, and the mullahs.

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