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The Dynastic Rot in South Asia

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Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited India on last Sunday. It was planned as a private visit to a famous Sufi shrine but as things transpired; it turned into a semi-official visit. The president took a large entourage with him on taxpayers' money. He also donated one million dollars to the custodians of the shrine, paid from the national coffers of Pakistan. The highlight of the trip was a lunch with Premier Manmohan Singh, which didn't yield any results.

The visit has thawed the relationship between the two countries. It, however, also reflects the rot in the South Asian politics. Bilawal Zardari, the eldest son of the president, accompanied him to India. There, he met Rahul Gandhi, the eldest son of Sonia Gandhi, the record-setting head of the ruling party. Rahul is seen by many as the future prime minister of India. The junior Zardari is also groomed -- with taxpayers' money, of course -- to be the next prime minister of Pakistan.

That these two "democratic heirs" held a discussion speaks volumes about the evil of dynasticism that is tearing the democratic fabric apart in South Asia. Bilawal was passed the mantle of the ruling Pakistan's People's Party's chairmanship by his slain mother Benazir Bhutto, through a controversial will. Rahul is the general secretary of the ruling party and is destined to become its chairman one day.

While Pakistan has had a love-hate relationship with democracy during the 65 years of its existence, India has consistently remained a democratic country. After 65 years, it looks abysmal to see the largest democracy in the world still being unable to shun dynasticism. Does this mean that Indians, who now number over 1.2 billion, lack the expertise to run the country? Isn't it time to say goodbye to the Nehru-Gandhi family? They have spent over 50 years in the corridors of power. When the kings ruled supreme, it was considered the average life of a dynasty. In contemporary democracies, it would be considered criminal to latch on to power for that long.

One must give credit where it is due though. Except for a two-year period in the 1970s, Gandhis have largely followed the Indian constitution. They have their fair share of corruption charges but that fades in comparison to the plundering of the Bhuttos. The latter has little respect for moral or constitutional values.

Before heading to Delhi, Zardari, who is also the co-chairman of the ruling party, launched a poisonous tirade against the opposition leaders. He addressed party workers and brainstormed on how to ensure victory in the upcoming elections. His actions, which are enough to disqualify him on the grounds of conduct unbecoming of the president, have been met by indifference by the opposition.

This would not have been the case in India. None of the Indian presidents, who enjoy the same cosmetic powers as laid down in the Pakistani constitution, can dare to utter a single word that could jeopardize their impartiality. Sonia Gandhi could have become the president of India but she would have to abdicate her political role for that. She would not have been able to sworn in as the president if she remained the head of a political party. In Pakistan, the opposite of that has taken place. Zardari has abused the constitution and the opposition has not done anything. Not even a lame-ass impeachment motion.

This leaves us at a paradox. India, where democracy has flourished, has been able to uphold the constitution in letter and spirit. Pakistan, where democracy has seen its ups and downs, has become a laughing stock, largely due to the antics of Zardari. India, where democracy rules supreme, has been unable to break the shackles of dynasticism. It would have set an example for the world but sadly has failed to live up to its promise. Gandhis, while better than the Bhuttos, are still an anathema to democratic values.

It would be a great shame if the Indians were still being ruled by the Gandhis in 2020. They have lived in a democratic society for decades. It is about time they take charge of their democracy and become a guiding light.