Amid the Bharatiya Janata Party’s landslide victory in India’s parliamentary elections, one result stood out, in the town of Amethi, near the border with Nepal.
There, the family that has dominated Indian politics since the country’s independence more than 70 years ago suffered a humiliating blow: Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress Party, lost his seat. The BJP’s overall victory was hardly unexpected (though few predicted the margin of its win), but Gandhi’s loss is an earthquake. Either he or someone from, or linked to, his family has occupied the Amethi constituency almost without interruption since 1980 (it was briefly held by the BJP in 1998). In India’s last national elections, in 2014, Gandhi managed to hold on to the seat convincingly even as his party crumbled across the country.
Yet this time around, he too was swept aside in Amethi as the BJP won even more seats than in its 2014 victory. (Under Indian law, a candidate can run for election in more than one parliamentary constituency at the same time, so Gandhi will in any case return to Parliament from a seat in the southern state of Kerala.)
As the great-grandson, grandson, and son of Indian prime ministers, Gandhi’s political pedigree is not in question. Nor does his loss in Amethi mean that dynastic politics are over in India, where a new generation of politicians can trace their positions directly to their parents and grandparents. (Indeed, his mother easily won her seat.) But the electoral humiliation of a scion of the Gandhi family, indeed the leader of the party that led India to independence from Britain, is striking in a region where dynastic politics have dominated the landscape for decades: The Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs in Pakistan, the Bandarnaikes in Sri Lanka, and the descendants of Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman in Bangladesh have all been integral parts of their countries’ modern history. This parliamentary election, and Gandhi’s loss in a constituency whose past is closely intertwined with his family’s, is the most compelling sign yet that India has moved into a new era.