Of nepotism, legacies, and heritage

Opposition to nepotism has been a dominant narrative in the political discourse at least since the general elections of 2014. The prime target of this opposition has been Rahul Gandhi. His abysmal performance as a politician and as the head of the Congress party has delegitimized any of his claims whatsoever to the positions he holds or has held in the past.

Rahul Gandhi has turned into the mascot of nepotism and an exemplar of why it shouldn’t be perpetuated. In this backdrop, one can’t help but ponder over the criticism of nepotistic cultures and its limits, and its interplay with the larger questions of inheritance, legacies and heritage.

The criticism of nepotism, on the face of it, seems to stem from the idea of meritocracy and is an extension of the argument that certain positions of power or sources of wealth creation should be handed over only to those who are deserving enough for the same. A nepotistic culture, which works on a system of family ties, lineage, and social relations, functions by passing down these power centers and sources through generations irrespective of the capabilities of the individuals and keeps the locus of power within close knit circles.

Even the most basic human instincts of fairness and justice create the notion that an individual’s entitlement to natural/human resources should be judged on the basis of the former’s worth and capability to wield and utilize the latter in a just manner. The notion of fairness instantly repels against any sense of entitlement and arrogance that flows from simply having inherited the resources.

Entitlement and privilege take up very different forms, where they’re justified only when wore on the sleeves by someone who has earned them. Nepotism then, is the nemesis of an efficient, rewarding meritocratic culture.

What precisely are the limits of any criticism of nepotism? Nepotism by default carries negative connotations, something which violates fair distribution of rewards among the deserving candidates and hence should be avoided at all costs. However, often what happens is that the label of nepotism is used quite loosely to argue that it is being perpetuated in any given scenario.

Some opponents of nepotism might go so far as to argue against the very legitimacy of inheritance, conflated with nepotism. Inheritance as a social scheme/arrangement is itself brought under attack for it is believed to be the root cause of nepotism.

It’s very interesting to think that if this was really the case, how come the human civilization has stuck to this societal arrangement for ages despite it not being rewarding enough.

The social institution of inheritance shouldn’t be dismissed as nepotism, as it inflicts societal harm only when the incompetency of the individual inheriting the resources begins to affect the society at large. Inheritance as a norm is an inherent part of our societal structure, a desirable by-product of familial relations which form the basic unit of human civilization.

It is through inheritance that legacies are created and sustained. The creation and upholding of inherited legacies serve as the life force for several individuals. Individuals exude pride in the legacies that they receive through generations. This is what motivates them to toil hard, to become able enough to be able to carry enthusiastically the burden of these legacies.

A legacy could be in any form; be it in the political, cultural, social, economic or even academic sphere. It is for the preservation of the legacy that a person strives, and works hard and evolves oneself to ensure that the legacy thrives. The legacies that we inherit are meant be preserved, nurtured, expanded and be taken to new heights.

We ought to behave as custodians and trustees of our legacies, as people who pay obedience to their ancestors for what they have created and passed on. At the same time, we also ought to be filled with pride as responsible owners of our legacies, but not to the extent of being arrogant about it. Arrogance displays a sense of misplaced entitlement, a belief in absolute ownership that takes things for granted.

We need to maintain a fine balance between carrying forward our inherited legacies as custodians and owners simultaneously. We must also remember that the legacies we inherit place us at a certain level of privilege, provide us with a certain stature in the society even before we begin our life’s journey, and hence we must strive hard to expand them.

Legacies might be abstractions, but they’re beautiful abstractions which provide a sense of meaning and purpose to people’s lives. They ought to be nurtured such that they shine, flourish and prosper.

Only those civilizations can preserve their heritage whose individuals are capable of securing their own legacies. Failed individuals are a sign of a decadent civilization. Just as each individual is supposed to vigorously protect one’s inheritance and legacy, so is every society duty-bound to preserve its invaluable cultural heritage and history.

While our individual inheritances provide us with an identity of ourselves, make us aware of who we are and where we belong to, similarly history and heritage define who we are as a society and what our cultural and civilizational identity is. Civilizations have been built on the pillars of valued heritage, not on the ruins of crumbling legacies.

So, vigorously preserve what you have inherited, for that’s not your toil but rather the sweat and blood of your ancestors; try and carve out a legacy from all that you’ve got, build and expand it for that is what makes your life worthy; abhor nepotistic culture for it is a mark of your individual failure and seals the fate of your legacy; live up to the virtues, values and legacies that you have inherited; and finally cultivate an atmosphere of duty and respect towards your society, its culture and heritage for a brighter future of your civilization.

If life gives you a legacy, then make it worthwhile, and do not be a Rahul Gandhi!

-by Yashowardhan Tiwari


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