Monday, September 10, 2007

Hereditary Lineage in Indian Politics

Recently I was having a discussion over how good or bad having Hillary as the next president of US would be considering the fact that her win will mean that US would become a country ruled by the members of two families for at least 24 years. US will then have a whole generation which can imagine only either some Bush or Clinton as their president. I intend no offence to Hillary's capabilities or doubt her competence to govern the country, but this idea of continuous 24 or 28 years of US presidency shared by two families sound depressing. These two families may represent two opposite ways of thinking prevalent in US but probably anyone can imagine that there is a fair chance that they don't represent enough new or fresh thoughts. George Washinton didn't go for a third term in order to set a precedent for coming generations so that fresh thoughts from new people can keep coming into the Whitehouse. However capable or great a leader is, he/she will tend to think the same way and for a nation to stay ahead new thoughts and ideas should keep coming from the leadership. Having these two families rule US for so long doesn't seem to be in sync with that fundamental belief of George Washington and US.

Anyways, this led me to think about India where since my grandfather's time one Nehru-Gandhi family has ruled the country for most of the time. I admire Nehru even though I feel he made some wrong decisions. I guess his decisions could be justified in the context those were taken. His descendents have done both blunders and some wonderful things for India but its the same family and however different these individuals maybe, finally they end up thinking in similar ways. So the next obvious question which came to my mind was how prevalent the family lineage system is in Indian politics? It's not just about the Gandhi family, I felt maybe all over India in small cities too we can this failure of Indian democracy to bring new people with fresh ideas.

So I thought why not try to look for empirical evidence for this phenomenon because I felt there would be many interesting patterns of succession in leadership varying across regions, religions, economic status, gender and education levels etc. Hence I started to look for data on this and I found that Election Commission of India's (ECI) website has the data online for who all were the Members of Paliament (MP) and Members of Legislative Assembly (MLA) since 1977 but no data on their blood relationships with other MPs or MLAs. I asked two prominent Indian political scientists Dr. Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Yogendra Yadav also about how can I collect this data. Dr. Mehta didn't know and referred me to Prof. Yadav, who told me that he has data on all MPs since the first Indian general election in 1952 but he does not know of any source for data on their blood relationships.

This makes the problem more interesting and challenging, so I thought of an idea for collecting this data. Just to reiterate, the core research idea is to match the ECI data on all MPs and MLAs since 1977 with the information on whether there were or are any blood relatives of these MPs who were either a MP or MLA before or after, in their own constituency or some other constituency with the information on the caste, religion, region, gender, income and education levels of these MPs and MLAs etc. I believe this could make a decent research paper based on inductive reasoning. Additionally we will try to collect information on any natural calamities or crisis (riots) etc during the tenure of these public representatives, their campaign focus and public perception of corruption levels during their tenures.

The idea for collecting this data which I thought is to get the voluntary submissions by general public about their local MPs on some internet website, something like a wiki. It would be like an open-source research project :). I feel it is an interesting idea to try, though I am not sure whether it would be successful or not. And even if I am able to get all or even 90% of the data this way over the time period of an year or so, then also there will be all kinds of reliability issues with that data. I dont care if this kind of data is deemed unreliable and I can't publish the results in a journal, but I strongly feel that if this can be done then it would be an interesting experiment for collecting data in social sciences.. :) I guess the idea is not something new, specially in this information age but its application and operationalization in this context is definitely a new and challenging thing and hence it is worth trying. In fact about 40% of data has been collected representative results could also be shown on the web and updated regularly.

I will try to put up the link for the website which will collect this data here as soon as possible. I will then hope and pray that this experiment becomes a success. It probably could also provide evidence that all over India people accessing internet are interested in politics. And if it happens, then more such experiements will spin-off to collect the data which is otherwise very hard to collect and can provide us some meaningful insights about our own society. Insights which probably would make people think whether what they observe is right or not and what can they do change things which they deem wrong.

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