Nepo-Babies, the shortened term for nepotism babies, a word made popular over social media, is used to describe anyone who has benefitted from nepotism and there are plenty of Nepo-Babies around in Sri Lanka too, and this is more pronounced in politics than any other field.In South Asian countries in particular, politics is a family business and it’s no secret that the leading political families in the country have ensured that the business stays within their realm as long as possible. It has been this way since independence.
Nepotism in politics is not entirely a bad thing if those taking on the mantle from their grandparents or parents or any other relative are genuinely committed to public service, but we have seen less of that and more of abuse of the privileges they enjoy. And while political Nepo-Babies come with an advantage that an outsider to the system does not have, they also have to carry the burden of the bad policies and mistakes committed by their relatives, even when they have had little to do with the decisions taken in the past.
This was illustrated in Parliament this week when Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa had to distance himself from some of the decisions his father Ranasinghe Premadasa was a party to after Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena chided him for speaking on behalf of trade union leaders when his father’s Party had sacked thousands of public servants for going on strike.
“I am not a son who follows everything done by Ranasinghe Premadasa because he is my father. I will only continue his important and positive programs, but I will never say that everything done by my father is correct. I am an independent person,” Premadasa said in response.
Fortunately for the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader did not bring up deficiencies that are attributed to Philip Gunawardena, the PM’s father because opening the nepotism can of worms would mean endless exchanges in Parliament on who’s who did what. While nepotism and Nepo-Babies have been part of the Lankan political landscape for decades, it reached its zenith under the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration when not only immediate family members but even extended family became part of the governance structure. As the old adage goes, “Too, much of anything is bad” and in the case of the Rajapaksas, too much nepotism was one of the main reasons for their downfall.
Be it Parliament, Provincial Councils or Local Authorities, most of those who get nominations and end up getting elected come with some sort of political connection. It is not easy for a total outsider to get a foothold in politics, hence the reason we see few who make it to prominence without the right connections.
Why many Sri Lankans loathe political Nepo-Babies is not because they come with privilege but because of the sense of entitlement with which they go about. What irks people is that the likes of Namal Rajapaksa go about haughtily, as if waiting in the wings, to be President someday because his father and uncle both were, that Sajith Premadasa should be President because his father was once President and so on.
Meritocracy in politics is non-existent in Sri Lanka which is why the young men and women of this country have had to take to the streets to demand that they get what is due to them, not because they come from privileged backgrounds but because as citizens of this country, they should have equal opportunity to climb the ladder that would take them to the highest positions in the land.
Political Nepo-Babies in the meantime should understand that their privileged position will not protect them from the wrath of the voters unless they shed their sense of entitlement and serve the public, which is what they are elected for.