In India, Parliament Seats Are Often Hereditary

When George W. Bush was elected U.S. president in 2000, it looked to many Americans like the first modern democratic dynasty. Electing the son of a past president to the same office, many worried, looked like a tiny but worrying step away from democracy and back toward monarchy. But that was nothing compared to India, where two out of three of members of the lower house of Parliament under the age of 40 are the children of other members of Parliament. For members under 30, 100 percent have a parent in Parliament. India might be a democracy -- the world's largest, in fact -- but the country's political power often comes through inheritance, rather than, for example, merit. The numbers are yet another sign of the corruption rotting away at the Indian political system.

These statistics are reported in India: A Portrait, a new book by Patrick French. Just as revealing is the fact that Indian journalist Hartosh Singh Bal, reviewing the book in The Wall Street Journal, can't believe that French is making such a big deal over something that, for Bal, could not be more obvious. Of course power is hereditary in India. What did you expect, elections?

The drawbacks of his outsider's perspective are soon apparent in the section about the nation and its politics. Mr. French makes much of his analysis of the Parliament's demographics, reporting the "shocking" news that in the Lok Sabha--the lower house, its members directly elected--every member under the age of 30 was the offspring of a member of Parliament and that two-thirds of those under 40 were also "HMPs," or hereditary MPs. "India's next general election," Mr. French writes, "was likely to return not a Lok Sabha, a house of the people, but a Vansh Sabha, a house of dynasty."

Shocking? Not really. An average parliamentary constituency in India numbers around a million voters. It is improbable that an unknown candidate younger than 30 could transit from local politics to the stage where he or she is electable by a million voters. A family name is one obvious shortcut for getting past this constraint.

Read the whole story at The Wall Street Journal.

Presented by

Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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