Star Wars and the dynastic principle

Late last week, I picked up Ram Guha’s Patriots and Partisans. I know shamefully little about India’s modern political history – before and after Independence – certainly beyond the virtual borders of its scientific and technological endeavours. And to someone as receptive to new ideas on this front as me, Guha’s writing is perfect: he’s lucid, coherent and – with kudos to his editor – his writing is well-structured. Two of the most interesting things I’m learning is M.K. Gandhi’s reformist beliefs of what it means to be a Hindu and the Gandhi family’s problems.

On the latter count, in a chapter entitled ‘A short history of Congress chamchagiri’ (Hindi for sycophancy), Guha elaborates:

The dynastic principle has damaged the workings of India’s pre-eminent political party, and beyond, the workings of Indian democracy itself. One manifestation … is the filling of important positions on the basis of [sycophancy] rather than competence. Another is that Mrs Indira Gandhi’s embrace of the dynastic principle for the Congress served as a ready model for other parties to emulate. With the exception of the cadre-based parties of left and right, the CPM and the BJP, all political parties in India have been converted into family firms.*

Here Guha proceeds to provide examples: the DMK, “now the private property of M. Karunanidhi and his children”; Bal Thackeray “could look no further than his son” given his “professed commitment to Maharashtrian pride and Hindu nationalism”; the mantle of leadership in the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal passed from “Mulayam’s party passed on to his son, and in Lalu’s party to his wife”, respectively. He continues:

The cult of the Nehru-Gandhis, dead and alive, is deeply inimical to the practice of democracy. For his part, Jawaharlal Nehru, following Gandhi, tried to base his policies on procedures and principles rather than on the force of his personality. Within the Congress, within the Cabinet, within the Parliament, Nehru worked to further the democratic, cooperative, collaborative ideals of the Indian Constitution. … Loyalty to the Leader, in person, rather than to the policies of her or her government – such was the legacy of Mrs Indira Gandhi, to be furthered and distorted by her progeny, and by leaders of other parties too. [And] What Indira did at the Centre was exceeded in the provinces…

This adherence to the dynastic principle, which Rahul Gandhi reminded us all of when he appointed his sister to lead the Congress’s fight in the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh bastion, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. And as Guha has articulated so well, those who practice it deserve to be suspected of being undemocratic, and have their beliefs and actions similarly tainted. There is no reason why the Congress should not be able to look beyond the immediate members of its core family.

The latest Star Wars teaser, for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, is foreboding for the same reasons. Going beyond the franchise’s fixation on Western characters and insistence on keeping the protagonists white (to the unforgivable extent of casting Lupita Nyong’o and then using only her voice), the teaser suggests that Rey is a/the (?) new Skywalker. I’ll be as thrilled as anyone else if she was a new Skywalker, if the name becomes a label akin to the (clanless) Torchbearer in Star Trek: Discovery.

But if she turns out to be the new Skywalker, then the franchise’s writers will finally have completed their betrayal of the infinite purpose of the fantasy genre itself. They will have been utterly lazy – if not guilty of a form of creative manslaughter – if Rey turns out to be biologically related to the Skywalkers, broadcasting the message that either you’re royalty or you’re not, much like the Gandhis themselves have.

In fact, even if Rey doesn’t carry the Skywalker blood, and ‘Skywalker’ becomes a title that anyone can aspire to, it remains to be seen how Episode IX treats the dynasty itself: if it is afforded a soft landing and the luxury of a dignified exit (which seems likely given Luke’s farewell in The Last Jedi) or if it is brought down hard and blown to smithereens. Rather, and taking a step back, will the franchise endeavour to send any sort of clear message about the pitfalls of dynasty itself?

Featured image credit: Erika Wittlieb/pixabay.