File photo | Sushant Singh Rajput | Facebook/SushantSinghRajput
File photo | Sushant Singh Rajput | Facebook/SushantSinghRajput
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We don’t know for sure the reason why Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput took his own life, but the resulting debate on nepotism is a turning point in Indian society. Rajput was not only an outsider to the joint family called Bollywood, but an outsider from Patna. As a result, nepotism has now become a Hindi word found in Hindi papers.

Before Rajput’s suicide, it was Kangana Ranaut who took up the matter. Outside of Bollywood, India’s public discourse often discusses ‘dynasty’ and ‘dynastic privilege’ in Indian politics.

This is an opportunity for Indian society to broaden the discussion. Given a chance, we are all nepotistic. There is nobody who won’t promote their children’s careers in the same field as theirs. This is part of our tradition of caste and kinship. To bring down the edifice of nepotism in Bollywood and politics, we have to question nepotism in society at large.

A drain on the GDP

This is a serious issue with implications not only for equality of opportunity but also for India’s economic progress. Nepotism promotes mediocrity, and thus low productivity.

The Congress party insists on being led by Indira Gandhi’s grandchildren, regardless of whether they are the best people suited for the role. The result is for all to see: a most ineffective opposition. Similarly, the Bollywood marketing machine will force you to watch an Arjun Kapoor movie, even if he has the same face and same expression throughout the movie. He can’t act, but the movie will still make a profit thanks to the marketing machine. And even if it flops, he will still get another role. The result is that India has a lot of terrible cinema.

India’s legal profession is said to be controlled by some 500 families. If you are a young lawyer, you have to struggle for years at a pittance of a salary with senior lawyers before the profession will let you stand on your feet. Meanwhile, the fraternity is full of third-rate lawyers who keep getting cases and corporate retainerships only because their fathers or mothers are famous advocates.


Also read: Bollywood’s nepotism didn’t start with Karan Johar. But it must end with Sushant Singh Rajput

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When an internship is a phone call away

In much the same way, nepotistic privilege affects the overall quality of many parts of the Indian economy. Our newsrooms are full of children of journalists and even politicians. A well-known journalist’s son or daughter gets an internship with a phone call whereas those without such access keep emailing their CVs with no one bothering to even open their emails.

The unfairness does not stop there. The other day, I saw a prominent academic promote a senior journalist’s daughter on Twitter, praising her with superlatives for an ordinary cub reporter’s work. Nepotistic privilege is thus a life-long privilege. You get a free pass because you are the son or daughter or relative of XYZ. It’s bad enough that she has the advantage of getting story ideas, leads and contacts at home while an ‘outsider’ in the same newsroom will have to struggle much harder to be at the same level. But for your father’s powerful friends to be promoting you on Twitter blindly is absolutely distasteful.

We are all complicit

It is time for all of us to look within. Do we take someone more seriously because their father or mother is successful in the same field? We do, we often do. This is part of our ethos as a caste society. There is, for example, a huge amount of curiosity among the public about star kids. We reward nepotism. Someone with nepotistic privilege may be competent, but you haven’t even tried an ‘outsider’.

We need to flip this formula, not just to provide equality of opportunity but also because every job should have the most competent person doing it. That is why nepotism is an economic issue.


Also read: 2019 elections ended ‘dynasties’ only of Congress, BJP’s are well and truly thriving


Copy-paste woke culture 

To flip it, we need to start seeing nepotistic privilege as a matter of shame. India’s woke millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha tend to learn political correctness from American shores. But nepotism is not such a big social issue in the US. We need some originality in our woke politics to start shaming nepotistic privilege. When woke millennials say ‘check your privilege’, they don’t include nepotism because American news sites haven’t yet written about it yet.

In the way that woke people go around ‘cancelling’ those who are misogynistic or homophobic or fatphobic or those who think skin colour defines beauty… yeah, riding pillion on your dad’s career should be seen like that.

If you are a young adult planning your career, and you are planning to take up the same career as your parents, you should feel some shame about it. And your friends should judge you for it.

And you should definitely stop your mom and dad from making the phone call that gets you the free pass. Name dropping shouldn’t get you a job — your CV and work should.

Of all the professions in the world, your inner calling turns out to be the same as your parent’s? Where’s the originality, the rebellion, where’s your individualism?

Similarly, parents successful in a profession should encourage their children to find a different profession. In a country where the caste system is literally about profession, this is key to social democratisation.


Also read: Sonam Kapoor to Varun Dhawan: A crash course for Bollywood’s star kids on nepotism


It will be your turn next

Maybe you really, really want to follow the same profession as your parent. Here’s the challenge. Can you do it on a different turf? If you are a Bollywood star kid, can you ‘launch’ your career in a country other than India or with a less-known, less-glitzy banner? If your father is prominent in national politics but inactive in state politics, can you build your own mass popularity in state politics? If your mother is a criminal lawyer, can you at least go work in a corporate law firm?

If you are literally doing what your dad does, just taking on his clients, just running his business, you should, yes, be a little ashamed of yourself. You are occupying a seat that could be occupied by someone more competent than you, no matter how good you think you are at your work.

You should know that the world judges you for it but doesn’t say it yet. Just like the silence about nepotistic privilege has been broken in politics and Bollywood, one day it will be broken in your profession too.

The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.

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15 Comments Share Your Views

15 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, let’s replace a culture of nepotism with a culture of toxic shaming of anyone and everyone possible. Instead of seeing this instance to reflect on why we are a depressed society that ranks so low on the Happiness Index of the world, let’s use this opportunity to spread more hate and toxicity. Don’t you think this perverted obsession with careers and using every professional succes/failure to measure and label the worth of an individual has got something to do it with? I understand how nepotistic privilege serves to propagate frustration among many able youth and yes, it should be considered highly unethical in a professional environment to use it to leverage your career or to help someone on the basis of such recommendations but I hope you understand that the known is always going to be more likeable. In fact, this is the very basis of networking. So where does one draw the line? Do we make everything an objective assessment of merit and competitiveness in order to perpetuate a different form of caste system? I believe that this argument about nepotism is a speck in the dust in the larger picture. If we really want to progress as a society, we should be focussing on RESPECT. Respect for not just a few “highly successful” professionals but for every individual. For eg., even in the movie industry, why do you not respect a TV actor as much as a movie actor. Why is a theatre actor not respected well? Is a broadway performer any less than a hollywood actor in the west? What we need is respect for work. Should a labourer be paid so menially for doing something that most of us in our suits and dresses would not be able to survive beyond a week? The entire foundation and fabric of our culture is so toxic to mental and emotional health that I do not think we need more shaming. I’d rather we focus more on empowering.

  2. Shivam, Shivam!

    Are you a parent?

    If not, ask your parents if they will agree with the sentiment below.

    I will do everything I can to make sure that “my children” have the best, including whatever influence I can exert on their behalf. They are mine and I have worked very hard to give them the best. And they shall have it.

    Nepotism is as old as Humanity. Nay, life.

    If you don’t have parents who can exert influence for you, then you have to struggle and make sure that you are in a position to exert influence for your children. One generation pays that price so that future generations can prosper.

    That my dear Shivam, is life.

    And last I checked, the Americans were still human, reproducing and neopotistic.

  3. Well, I don’t agree with one important thing mentioned in this article. Why is that an individual should not join his/her parents’ profession? Why are you generalizing it? See there are a hell lot of examples where individuals followed their parents and had done even better. You watch out justice chandrachud, Mukesh Ambani, Yuvraj Singh, etc.
    It is an individual’s choice you can’t call it like hey you are doing business which you inherited from your father/mother shame on you. Dude, there is a possibility that he always wanted to do it. Yes, there is too much nepotism everywhere but there is a thick line of difference which you should never ignore.

  4. Nepotism is the way of the world. Barring some exceptions, practiced everywhere. Expertise in many fields are handed down and improved through nepotism. It’s not all bad. Flip side is it becomes a perpetual reservation system.

  5. Some of this borders on the absurd. If a person inherits the family owned grocery store or farm or auto-parts factory, I fail to see how that is wrong. In fact, it is through the hard work of generations that businesses have flourished and may even have contributed to the well being of the community. If the son or daughter of a doctor or teacher or musician is inspired by the distinguished career of their parents and follow in their footsteps, do we dismiss them as conformists? That is a ridiculous idea. One has to clearly qualify what is or isn’t nepotism. If they are getting their ‘break’ only because of who they are, that’s a problem.

    Even when it comes to family controlled corporations, there is a balance with professional management involved, since it is well nigh impossible to run it any other way. We may idealise the Tata Sons model over the Reliance Ind model, however if one were to look at it from the lens of shareholder wealth, the moral arguments are not so clear. The Walton family is perhaps still on the board of Walmart, I remember one of the Ford family ‘scions’ in the news about a decade ago, such examples abound everywhere (BMW, Aldi, Japanese conglomerates etc.). Where do these fall on this spectrum? Closer home, how should Rohan Murty’s tenure at Infy be seen?

  6. Partly true but if everyone followed your advice, we would have had no Ramesh Krishnan nor The ray family that gave us Shukumar and Satyajith. The world would be a few Nobel prizes short (Irene Curie, The Braggs etc). Farmers would be for ever selling their land (since sons and daughters cannot be farmers) and ditto business-(wo)men. Better to encourage young people to do what their heart tells them to but refuse the easy placement in the family firm or the phone call to uncle-X or auntie-Y. That is what is problematic – the impenetrable network – not children being inspired by their parents.

  7. Hi. True, nepotistic “privilege” indeed provides an easier route for a person to pursue what their parent did. But to “socially look down” on someone who merely follows their parent’s path is unwarranted. Your suggestion would entail some sort of social boycott or outcasting. People are born into privilege by accident of birth, and of course, they are going to take their parents’s route if they are willing to. Why would a person NOT pursue a path which someone (parent) has already pursued and shown spectacular results in? Your suggestion tries to create some fabricated “morality”. I am not contending your opinion of nepotism, but your suggestion to look down upon people. This would only create envy and disgrace in a society that is already filled with hatred and agony. Accident of birth is crucial theme that no one can ignore. Prosecuting someone or socially looking down upon someone who merely pursued what their parents did is a dangerous proposition. You are not doing any favor to the society by doing so.

    Instead, you might want to engage with important systemic problems such as access to credit, discrimination. Eg. If my access to credit is easy and less hurdle some, I too can borrow money and make a movie with someone who is not “privileged”.

    You are not better than anyone just because you did something “different”. If you need to look down on someone else to feel good about yourself, maybe the problem is with you. This so-called “liberal morality” is unwarranted. The “woke” millennial politics cater to emotions and feelings which lack reason and luster.

  8. The author’s writing is quite pedestrian this time. Like the BJP trolls he goes after easy targets like the Gandhis and film star’s progeny. He does not name any of his journalist brethren, news-paper and media guys, business houses, hospital chains, hotel and hospitality, dept stores – practically every nook and corner of India is stuffed with people who have reached where they have due to their or their family connections. This ecosystem stops new comers from going any further ahead. Who all will you boycott Mr Shivam – your car maker, your cell phone provider, your child’s pediatrician, your nearby Shetty hotel where you drink tea and meet sources for your story, your neighbourhood grocery store? All of them are family owned enterprises, all run on family contacts. India cannot run if Shivam’s idea is implemented. Poor Gandhis and some filmy kids have to bear the brunt of India’s nepotism tirade. Who has spoken against Piyush Goyal or Anurag Thakur or Chirag Paswan. Even Jyotiraditya Scindia is now kosher for BJP fans.

  9. Shouldn’t the woke youth also look down those who scrape through because of reservations? That is also getting a free pass in great educational institutions and Govt. jobs without being fully deserving. Just because someone has been born into a backward family, doesnt mean that they deserve to go to IITs and IIMs or medical colleges with half the marks scored by general category students who actually have to study their guts out. Fact is, India needs to be a purely meritocratic nation where caste, creed, religion, gender do not play a role. Only intelligence and tenacity should matter.

  10. For some interesting reason Shivam Vij is fixated with Gandhis. The subject had no reason to drag their name in. Does he seriously believe that in a party out of power with no ability to dish out goodies, they can do as they will? If so he must clearly so state and be not rhetorical for ever.
    Let’s remember we are in a democracy and not’ peoples communism’ with state ownership of children.

  11. Think about a successful doctor or a lawyer who made a lot of money which is available to the son who wants to become a film star. He can partly or fully finance a film on condition of himself playing the role of a hero. Compare him with a poor newcomer from a village with superlative talent. Changing profession is nothing.

  12. I waited and waited for Rahul Gandhi’s name to appear. But alas, had to settle for an oblique reference about the greatest beneficiary of nepotism in the post independence history of India.

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