Congress scion Rahul Gandhi’s remarks, at Berkeley, on the spread of dynasties across India, and across professions—he himself is a 5th generation politician—may have drawn sarcastic comments about him being a failed dynast, but there is no denying South Asia tends to have more than a smattering of dynasts. Defending his position as a dynast, Gandhi spoke of Akhilesh Yadav and Anurag Thakur as examples of dynasts in politics, Abhishek Bachchan in cinema and Isha and Akash Ambani in business—and, he said, he thought the same was happening at Infosys; something Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy has always denied. Oddly, Gandhi left out examples of very successful dynasts. In politics, and his own family, both Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were remarkably successful dynasts and, in films, so many generations of the Kapoors ending with Kareena and now Ranbir have been enormously successful dynasts. While it is too early to say if Isha and Akash will be successful industrialists, or Kavin Mittal for that matter, both Mukesh Ambani and Kumaramangalam Birla are examples of very successful dynasts, as was Ratan Tata before he retired.
Gandhi is clearly right in saying what really matters is whether the dynast is capable or not, but what contributed to India’s success in the 1990s and the 2000s was the regularity with which many of the names in the Top 20 or Top 30 businesses kept changing—if Ambani/Tata/Birla were a constant, it was because they were continually reinventing themselves. That slowed in the 2010s and, not surprisingly, so did India’s growth. The good news is that the new insolvency code will give a fillip to this creative destruction and inefficient and debt-heavy corporates, known more for their ability to corner bank finance, over generations in some cases, will die a quick death—DieNasty!—while the adept and those with new ideas will rise.