India has had a long history of families that have been actively involved in politics, both at the local and national level. Many have emerged as political dynasties, handing over carefully nurtured constituencies as a legacy from one generation to the other.
While the existence of a large number of political dynasties in India may seem unusual to many an outsider, it is only an extension of the earlier practice with royalty, where the right to rule was seen as a birthright for centuries. Erstwhile royalty has now made way for political dynasties and they continue to thrive in various states of India and in various political hues.
The list of political dynasties is long and therefore, one has listed only some of the most prominent and politically active families around, in India.
The Nehru/Gandhi family
Without doubt, the Nehru/Gandhi family would top our list as the most eminent and politically active dynasties in India, unmatched by any other family, in terms of generations involved, political influence and popularity.
It all started with Motilal Nehru who was born in Delhi on 24 September 1861, to Jeorani and Gangadhar Nehru. He went on to become a successful lawyer and was one of the earliest members of the Indian National Congress where he served two terms as its President. Motilal Nehru had three children – son Jawaharlal, daughter Sarup (later known as Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit) and another daughter Krishna (later known as Krishna Hutheesing – a well-known author).
Jawaharlal Nehru was given the best of English education and he went on to become a successful lawyer, much like his father. He later joined the Indian National Congress and also served as its President. Post-independence, be became India’s first Prime Minister and had one daughter, Indira.
Indira at a young age was exposed to political activity during the freedom movement and was encouraged by her father who also acted as her mentor. She later married Feroze Gandhi and became Indira Gandhi, post marriage. She became one of India’s most well-known Prime Ministers and had two sons, Sanjay and Rajiv.
Sanjay, the elder son, was active in Indian politics but lost his life in an air crash. His widow, Maneka Gandhi subsequently joined the BJP and is currently serving as a Cabinet Minister in the NDA government. Her son, Varun Gandhi is an active member of the BJP.
Indira Gandhi’s younger son, Rajiv, chose to become a commercial airline pilot and married an Italian student Sonia, who he met during his studies in the UK. He later went on to become India’s Prime Minister but was tragically killed in a suicide bomb attack. His widow, Sonia Gandhi, had the option of becoming India’s Prime Minister but gave up the opportunity, choosing instead to head the Indian National Congress and remains politically active as its President.
Her elder son, Rahul Gandhi, is today the Vice President of Congress, while his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also remains active in politics.
The Scindia family
Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia, the widow of the erstwhile Maharaja George Jivajirao Scindia, joined politics in 1962. She initially joined the Congress Party and then shifted to Swatantra Party but was soon drawn to the Bharatiya Janata Party and remained with it till the end. She had one son and two daughters.
Her son, late Madhavrao Scindia, joined the Congress Party and served as a Cabinet Minister. His relationship with his mother wasn’t cordial for most years due to political and personal differences.
While his two elder sisters, Padmavati Raje and Usha Raje did not join active politics, his two younger sisters, Vasundhara Raje (present Chief Minister of Rajasthan) and Yashodhara Raje, both have been active members of the BJP. Madhavrao Scindia’s son, Jyotiraditya Scindia has been a member of the Congress Party and has served as Minister of State in the Union Cabinet.
The Scindias remain a powerful force in politics and continue to exert influence in their respective parties.
The Abdullah family
Sheikh Abdullah had been at the forefront of politics in Jammu and Kashmir, having founded the National Conference. He was one of the most powerful and influential political leaders to come out of J&K. He has served as the Prime Minister of the princely state of Kashmir under Maharaj Hari Singh and later served as J&K’s Chief Minister.
His son Farooq Abdullah has been a very vocal and colourful politician, who too served as Chief Minister and now Farooq Abdullah’s son, Omar Abdullah has taken over the leadership of National Conference and has served as J&K’s Chief Minister. Farooq Abdullah’s daughter, Sara Abdullah is married to young Congress leader, Sachin Pilot.
The family continues to remain influential in Kashmiri politics.
Deve Gowda family
H.D. Deve Gowda has served as India’s Prime Minister. He earlier served as Chief Minister of Karnataka and as Union Cabinet Minister. His son H.D. Kumaraswamy has served as Chief Minister of Karnataka, while his other son H.D. Revanna has served as PWD Minister in the Karnataka government.
The family remains active in politics and continues to wield influence in state politics.
Prakash Singh Badal is the current Chief Minister of Punjab and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal is the serving Deputy Chief Minister. Sukhbir Singh Badal’s wife, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, is the current Union Cabinet Minister of Food Processing and an M.P. from Bhatinda constituency.
The Badals together have been a major political force in Punjab and remain influential members of the Akali Dal in the state.
Royal family of Patiala (Capt. Amarinder Singh)
Former Chief Minister of Punjab Capt. Amarinder Singh is the son of Maharaja Yadavindra Singh and Rajamata Mohinder (Mehtab) Kaur of the erstwhile princely state of Patiala. While the Rajmata served as a Member of Parliament, it was her son, Capt. Amarinder Singh who became the Chief Minister and has been an active Congress Party member. His wife, Preneet Kaur has also been active in Congress politics, serving as Minister of State for External Affairs and has also been an M.P. Their son, Raninder Singh is an active Congress Party member in state politics.
The royal family has had a traditional rivalry with the Badal family-led Akali Dal and continues with its rivalry for control over state politics.
Bijayananda (Biju) Patnaik was a keen aviator flying transport aircraft for the Royal Air Force under the British. During the Kashmir raid by militants from across the border in 1947, it was Biju Patnaik who flew in the first soldiers of 1 Sikh Regiment that rescued Kashmir from the raiders.
A close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru and a keen follower of politics, he joined Congress party. In 1969, he fell out with Indira Gandhi and formed the Utkal Congress in Odisha. In the 70s, he joined the movement led by Jaiprakash Narayan and later joined the Janata Party. He shifted to the Janata Dal when it came into existence and remained with the party till the end.
His son, Naveen, is the current Chief Minister of Odisha, and daughter Gita Mehta is a well known English author. Naveen Patnaik founded the Biju Janata Dal after his father’s death and has served as a Cabinet Minister of Mines in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government.
Naveen Patnaik remains a strong and popular leader in Odisha.
M Karunanidhi is the leader of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a party founded by the late C.N. Annadurai in 1969. M. Karunanidhi, a former playwright and screenwriter in Tamil cinema, has been active in Tamil politics for well over 60 years and has served as Chief Minister of the state on five occasions.
M. Karunanidhi has six children from three wives. His sons are (late) M.K. Muthu, M.K. Alagiri, M.K. Stalin and M.K. Tamilarasu. His daughters are M.K. Selvi and Kanimozhi. The family is deeply entrenched in state politics and even within the family, there is rivalry for political control. M. Karunanidhi’s nephew, the Late Murasoli Maran, has served as a Union Minister, while his son, Dayanidhi Maran has served as a former Telecom Minister in the Union Cabinet.
M. Karunanidhi continues to remain a bitter rival of J. Jayalalithaa of AIADMK and the present Chief Minister. The state politics of Tamil Nadu is divided between the two families with little space for any other option.
Family led politics continues to roll on in India
The tradition of family-controlled politics is deep rooted in the Indian political space, however, with time, most families are now facing increasing competition from other first-generation politicians trying to make their mark, and only time will reveal how many continue to hold on to their respective legacy turfs.