A study of ruling dynasties from all over the world reveals that most of them declined by the time they reached the fourth generation. Rahul Gandhi belongs to the fourth generation of the dynasty that mostly ruled India since Independence
The results of elections held in the five states were declared just a couple of weeks back. The Congress has been decimated to an unimaginable scale. What to say of winning a few states, it lost Punjab to the extent that it cannot have even the leader of Opposition.
A democracy is considered to be robust where one party is in power but other party (parties) are waiting in the wings to step in whenever the government falters; i.e. a strong opposition. In present day it cannot be said of the political Opposition in India. However, despite this we are not in danger of any collapse of the democratic system just because the party currently in power is thoroughly steeped in 3,000 years of the democratic traditions that has been part of Indian civilisation and has been nurtured well.
A simple example will explain it better. The misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution by the successive Congress governments has been the norm of the day. Even though BR Ambedkar had assured that it would remain a dead letter, Article 356 has been used/misused more than 125 times. In almost all cases it was used for political considerations rather than any genuine breakdown of constitutional machinery in the states. Between 1966 and 1977 prime minister Indira Gandhi is known to have imposed President’s Rule 39 times in different states and in most cases to remove majority governments of Opposition parties on the ground of political stability, absence of clear mandate or withdrawal of support, etc.
However, my concern here is completely different. It is an accepted fact that, once seemingly invincible Congress is now into virtual coma or one can say it to be in the terminal stages. It is sad not only for the Congress party but also for the health of Indian democracy because the opposition is the strength of the democratic functioning. If we look at the electoral history of the Congress, we find that there has been a constant decline in its share of votes and seats right from 1952 when the first elections for Lok Sabha and the states were held. It has fallen from 45 per cent of the popular votes polled to 19.49 per cent in the Lok Sabha.
At the state level Congress has managed to do even worse. There are several states where it has been out of power for decades. Take the example of Uttar Pradesh that sends the largest number of members in the Indian Parliament. In this state its share of votes has fallen from 47.9 per cent in 1952 to just 2.35 per cent with just two seats in the Assembly despite intense elections campaigning by Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for almost one year or even more. The grave situation can be understood by the fact that Rahul Gandhi lost his Amethi parliamentary seat in 2019 and in 2022 Assembly elections Congress could not win a single Assembly seat from Amethi and Raebareli — the pocket burrow of the Nehru-Gandhi family for several decades and parliamentary seats of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi.
A few more things need to be discussed to understand the gravity of the situation of the leadership from which the Congress is suffering. The Congress is ruling now only in two states — Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh; and in two states — Maharashtra and Jharkhand as a junior partner. One does not know when Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will go on the Punjab path due to the tussles between Gahlot vs Pilot and Baghel vs Singh Dev.
In UP Congress contested 399 seats of which it lost even the security deposits on 387 seats. The situation in other states is no different. It must be understood that neither 2004 nor 2009 was a clear victory for the Congress party. It was far below the halfway mark: 145 in 2004 and 206 in 2009. It formed the government in the Centre with the help of several regional parties which paralysed the functioning of the government by pulling it in different directions and so also by unbridled corruption.
Sonia Gandhi took over the Congress presidency on 19 March 1998 and Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi have been at the helm of affairs since 2014. They have wielded unrestricted powers. And under their leadership now the Congress has reached the virtual decimal condition. There are demands for a change in leadership to the extent that the Nehru-Gandhi family should leave the Congress. There is no doubt that the Nehru-Gandhi family has treated Congress as its personal fiefdom and all the decisions are taken by three members of the family.
Now the practice is that if elections are won the credit goes to the Nehru-Gandhi family, but if lost the scapegoats are the small local leaders. Age old practice of taking the moral responsibility by the leadership has been conveniently forgotten. However, the people have rejected the leadership of Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi has been again and again in various elections on almost 30 occasions.
It may be pointed out that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra are the fourth generation of the dynasty in the power-politics since Independence; Jawaharlal Nehru being the first one.
In the realm of power-politics and dynasties one of the most remarkable books came out in 2009 — The Fateful Fourth Generation by Sima Yadav. This study of ruling dynasties from all over the world reveals very interesting facts about the dynasties and the successions to the throne. It has been noticed that most of the ruling dynasties declined by the time they reached the fourth generation, though they may have continued for some more time as small unknown or little-known dynastic successors. Rarely has any dynasty been able to reach the fifth generation. After that steep decline has been noticed. Given below are a few examples from around the world over a period of four thousand years.
In India we can see this trend right from the first great empire of the Mauryas. The dynasty was established and the empire was well fortified by Chandragupta Maurya (323-301 BC). The dynastic history is as follows:
1. Chandragupta Maurya (323-301 B.C.)
2. Bindusara (302-272 B.C.)
3. Ashoka (272-236 B.C.)
4. After the third generation (Ashoka), successors were so weak that not only the entire empire disappeared within a short time and the situation deteriorated to such an extent that his grandson was dethroned by the then army chief in 187 B.C.
The second example can be taken of the Gupta dynasty which was founded by Chandragupta-I (320-340 AD) and he ruled over a small principality. The real presence of the Gupta dynasty begins with Samudragupta. The chronology of the dynasty is as follows:
1. Chandragupta-I (320-340 AD)
2. Samudraupta (340-380 AD)
3. Chandragupta-II (380-414 AD)
4. Kumaragupta (414-445 AD) (troubles in holding on the empire began during his times. Junagarh Rock inscription of AD 455 mentions, “He sat against the hostile kings who were like so many serpents….”
5. Skandagupta succeeded Kumaragupta in AD 455 and soon the empire scattered and lost its glory.
Another example can be taken from the famous Pala dynasty of Bengal. The founder of the dynasty was Gopala and the dynastic succession was as follows:
1. Gopala (750-770 AD)
2. Dharmapala (770-810 AD)
3. Devapala (810-850 AD)
4. After Devapala the dynasty disappeared from the place of pride in Indian history, though it continued for some time as a small ruling principality of Bengal.
From the medieval Indian scene, a couple of examples can be taken. Let us take the Tughlaq dynasty which was founded by Ghiasuddin Tughlaq.
1. Giasuddin Tughlaq ((1320-1325 AD)
2. Muhmmad Bin Tughlaq (1325-1351 AD)
3. Firuz Shah Tughlaq (8151-1386 AD)
4. After Firuz’s death within a decade the dynasty was ruling over a small principality around Delhi which was gone with the invasion of Timur in 1398 AD.
We can now have a brief look at the Mughal dynasty which lasted longer than most of dynasties. The dynasty begins with Babar who (ascended the throne of a small principality of Farghana in 1494 and made his forage into India in 1517 and since then he was constant in battles with one kingdom or another. Humayun succeeded Babur and his reign is also characterised by wins and defeats. That eluded any stability to his kingdom. With Akbar (1556-1605) begins the real establishment of the Mughal dynasty.
1. Akbar (1556-1605 AD)
2. Jahangir (1605-1627 AD)
3. Shahjahan (1628-1658 AD)
4. Aurangzeb (1658-1707 AD);
After Aurangzeb, the empire began disintegrating to the extent that by the time of the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, it was famous that his royal title was bigger than the geographical area of his empire. Four Mughal Kings ruled for 151 years while the 12 kings — Bahadur Shah-I to Shah Alam-II finished in 90 years. During the entire Mughal dynasty there was no king, except Humayun, who did not face rebellion for the throne by their sons. Humayun did not face it because his son, Akbar, was too young to do so.
It is now important to briefly look at some famous dynasties from around the world — right from Egyptian civilisations to modern times. In the history of Egypt, we find that between 2650 BC and 45 BC more than 20 dynasties ruled, with intermittent periods of unrest and chaos. But no dynasty could effectively rule beyond the third or fourth generation. The same is the case with Mesopotamia. Mesopotamian “List of Kings” begins from 2350 BC with Akkadian dynasty in power. Five kings ruled between 2334 and 2193 BC i.e. for 141 years and after a prolonged period of chaos the Third Dynasty of Babylon occupied the throne. The most important ruler of Mesopotamia was Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) but even his dynasty did not last beyond the fourth generation. All other dynasties in Mesopotamia met the same fate.
In Rome the dynastic history begins in the first century BC and by the thirst century AD Julio-Claudian (27 BC-68 AD), the Flavian (69-96 AD), the Antonine (96-192 AD) and the Severan (193-235 AD) dynasties ruled but none could go beyond third or fourth generation in full glory.
During the medieval period the dynasties ruling France, England, Spain, Germany and Russia went through the same fate. In France, the Capetian dynasty began its rule in 11 80 AD and ended with the fourth king’s reign in 1285 AD. The French empire collapsed and after a chaotic period of 43 years, the Valois dynasty came to power with Philip-IV as the first effective ruler. However, with Charles-VI (the fourth ruler) the story gets repeated. Valois were succeeded by the House of Bourbons, the last ruler of which was Louis XVI whose reign Frenched Revolution commenced.
The story of England is similar. Most of the dynasties like the Norman (1066-1153 AD), the Early Plantagenets (1154-1216 AD), the family of Lancaster (1399-1471 AD), the Tudors (1485-1603 AD), and Stuarts (1603-1714 AD) met the same fate. Irony is that history keeps repeating itself, but we hardly learn any lesson.
The writer is a noted historian. Views expressed are personal.