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bilawal bhutto, rahul gandhi
They usually have famous fathers or mothers whose political fortunes they are destined to inherit. Some try to have it all as their birthright, while others work hard to earn their credentials.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Rahul Gandhi, and Justin Trudeau seemingly are political heir apparents.  Bilawal’s mother, late Benazir Bhutto, was the two-time prime minister of Pakistan. Rahul’s father, Rajeev Gandhi, and his grandmother, Indra Gandhi, were both prime ministers of India.  With Justin Trudeau, it was his famous father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who is one of Canada’s most famous, and perhaps the most controversial, prime ministers.

Despite the obvious similarities in their political paths, their journeys are quite different. While Bilawal is fortunate to have the political throne handed over to him without effort, Justin had to work his own way up the political ladder to get to the stage where he is about to win the leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party. And whereas Rahul initially worked independently in London and later founded a company in India, his political career is largely derived from his political inheritance.

The three young men share several common traits. To begin with, the three have inherited their parents’ good looks along with their political and material fortunes. Bilawal lost his mother, and Rahul lost both his father and grandmother to politically motivated violence. Justin’s father, while being the prime minister, also faced severe unrest and militancy (including bombings) in the late sixties and early seventies.  While  Trudeau was unharmed, a provincial minister, Pierre Laporte, was murdered in October 1970 after being kidnapped by a separatist group in Quebec.

The three men were also educated at distinguished universities. Bilawal attended Oxford University (Christ Church), Rahul obtained a Masters degree at Cambridge University (Trinity College), and Justin attended McGill University and the University of British Columbia. They are also expected to lead the same parties in the future that their parents once lead. Bilawal is set to lead the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Rahul is destined to head the Indian National Congress (INC), and Justin is likely to win the leadership contest for the Liberal Party of Canada.

The CEO syndrome of heir apparents

Unlike the western countries, where those who inherit the political or financial fortunes are expected to rise through the ranks, the Asian and Middle Eastern practices have been quite different.  It is expected that the sons, and increasingly daughters as of late, will inherit their parents’ political fortunes regardless. Thus, when Bilawal and Asif Zardari were declared co-chairpersons after the sudden death of Benazir in December 2007, the PPP converted from a democratic political institution to a fiefdom where the survivors inherited the throne from the parent. A genuine political party instead would have held elections for the leadership.

Rahul followed the same secured path in politics that was reinforced by inheritance rather than by demonstrated success in political efficacy. In May 2004, Rahul contested and won the LokSabha’s (the Parliament) elections from the same constituency, Amethi in UP, that elected his late father. After his father’s death, Rahul’s mother, Sonia Gandhi, retained the Amethi constituency, and in 2004 made the way for Rahul. She herself contested from the adjacent constituency of Rae Bareilly. Since January 2013, Rahul is also the newly minted Vice President of the Indian National Congress.

While Bilawal has yet to have a career of his own, Rahul did work in the IT industry, albeit briefly. Both young men, however, have no real careers beside being politicians and office bearers of political parties headed once by their parents.

Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, has had a career. Besides being a politician and the son of a former prime minister, Justin was a school teacher. He earned a Bachelor of education from the University of British Columbia and taught social studies and French in Vancouver. Afterwards, he pursued post-graduate studies at McGill University, which he left in 2008 to seek political office. Unlike Bilawal and Rahul, Justin had to contest and win the nomination from the riding association before he was allowed to be the liberal candidate in the elections.  He won his riding by defeating the incumbent from Bloc Québécois. Later in the 2011 elections, Justin was able to retain his seat in the Parliament.

The path to party leadership

While Justin is a member of the Canadian Parliament and the son of a former prime minister of Canada, he had no advanced standing in the contest for the leadership of the Liberal Party, which he started to pursue in 2012. He led a grass root movement from coast to coast to build support for his candidacy. In fact, his good looks and his family name have proven to be his greatest challenge in the understated Canadian political culture where even a hint of entitlement can sink political careers without warning. Whereas he is the frontrunner in the leadership race that will conclude later in April, he got there not because of, but in spite of, his last name.

Justin's story is a story of a mature people and a smart electorate that votes for ideas and not necessarily for personalities. Canadians have bought into the vision and sincerity of their leaders who had to earn the respect of their fellow citizens with years of hard work and commitment to public service. Bilawal and Rahul’s is a story of a people who fall for personalities and not ideas, a people who subscribe to dynasties, and not to the freedom of thought and mind.

The willingness to submit to the rule of dynasties is what has prolonged the success of those who inherit political leadership rather than earning it through hard work.  This will change only if people were to vote for what is good for the society collectively rather than what is good for their cast, tribe, or sect.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (61) Closed

Ahmed Apr 03, 2013 02:54pm
Not sure where you got information about Rahul, it is totally out of fact; 1. He never completed any graduation 2. He never setup a business 3. He never worded for any IT company.
Farhaz Apr 03, 2013 03:20pm
I have always loved your articles Mr Murtaza...but honestly speaking I don't think you should be wasting time on analyzing things around Rahul Gandhi. None of the Indians are really concerned about it too! You may also need to recheck the info about his education from Trinity college as he never completed his M.Phil from the college! Even if he becomes a PM some day that will be all because of the foolish people getting lured by the surname 'Gandhi'.
Salman Apr 03, 2013 03:29pm
conspiracy theory has started. please give sources.
Salman Apr 03, 2013 03:30pm
Its a great article once again by murtaza.
Shahid Zia Apr 03, 2013 03:41pm
In no way we can compare Justin with these two other Sub continent political chickens. Democracy is way too different here than across Atlantic. ""This will change only if people were to vote for what is good for the society collectively rather than what is good for their cast, tribe, or sect."" This is what matters the most. Please write something about the rising political power of PTI in Pakistan.
JP Singh Apr 03, 2013 03:49pm
I guess you have to check Rahuls education credentials. The bane of our two countries is the Dynasties that ruled and ruined. ZAB should have been fully held responsible for the break away of the eastern wing. He was uncompromising when there were signs of the shift of power to the eastern wing. Indira Gandhi's politics did India in - she was squarely responsible for what happened in Punjab. She let the country down when dealing with a defeated Pakistan in 1971. But does the history ever record their misdoings. Both were Martyred (sic ! ) at the hands of their own country men. So they are heros. India a country of 1.3 billion cant find somebody other than the Nehru family to run or to ruin this country. We have shameful opposition parties who except of converting the Indian parliament into a rabble ground do not have the anything worth while or credible to show to the people. So The King is dead - Long live the King.
zainab Apr 03, 2013 04:12pm
It is interesting that none of the comments refer to Bilawal's "achievements" that qualify him to be leader of a major political party in Pakistan, other than he just happens to have his family's wealth and possibly good looks
Evil Squirrel Apr 03, 2013 04:19pm
I don't think my comment got submitted the first time cause I had trouble logging in, so I'm submitting it again. I apologise if it's a duplicate. I'm a Canadian and I think you're quite wrong. Especially the statement about "a mature people and a smart electorate that votes for ideas and not necessarily for personalities. Canadians have bought into the vision and sincerity of their leaders who had to earn the respect of their fellow citizens with years of hard work and commitment to public service." I don't know a single Canadian who believes in the "vision and sincerity" of our prime minister Stephen Harper, who is only in power because of the completely faulty constitution. Despite having a minority in the popular vote, he has a majority in Parliament and has been ruling by decree ever since. He also gets to appoint senators. It's quite ridiculous. The Canadian electorate votes very much for personalities and is in no way "smart", which is why unlike other countries using the same parliamentary system, we have absolutely no sophistication in our parliament. There is no question of coalitions like in a normal parliament, and as a result we have what some scholars call an "alternating party system" wherein one party stays in power until the electorate gets fed up enough, and then they go down in flames and the other party comes in, until they too crash. I prefer to think of it as a "conjugating party system" wherein we have a past, present and future party. Currently the Conservatives are the present party but with Stephen Harper's and their other members' behaviour, their prospects in the next election are very bleak. The Liberals are the past party. They collapsed in power, fell even further in the last election under Ignatieff, and are essentially the reason we're stuck with Harper because they refused to work with the NDP, although they used the NDP's platform almost unchanged. The NDP is the future party, not because Canadians believe in it, but because there are no alternatives. I think it should be noted that Justin Trudeau would not even have a run at the Liberal leadership if the party wasn't in such dire straits. They have no one left that can offer any credibility. And contrary to what you're stating, Trudeau is very much riding on his father's legacy. He has no accomplishments and not much experience to draw on and is a laughing stock for many Canadians. His only hope of becoming the next prime minister rests on the fact that Canadians have a ridiculous aversion to the word "socialist" which is part of the NDP's constitution. I have been following coverage of the upcoming election in Pakistan and I think it is much more intelligent and inspiring than anything in Canadian politics.
Qamar Apr 03, 2013 04:24pm
There is a stark difference between Bilawal and Rahul Gandhi/Justin Trudeau. The latter two are not a foreigner in their country, Bilawal is. Moreover, dynasty has no place in a real democracy.
h Apr 03, 2013 04:35pm
and the best one is not young he is 42
Karachi Wala Apr 03, 2013 04:43pm
Murtaza, Don't you think George W. Bush should have been included in your article?
Bharti Apr 03, 2013 04:52pm
In India and Pakistan the leaders inherit the chair from their mother/father. But in the west they are voted in by the party. That is why there is no comparison between the three. Bilawal's mother died so is Rahul's grand mother. Neither of them has any experience to run the country.
Krish Chennai Apr 03, 2013 04:59pm
It looks like the writer has mixed up Rahul with his uncle Sanjay Gandhi, second son of Indira Gandhi, and who died in an air crash. And this time the writer is a little off-track, he should have kept to politics of the sub-continent as a separate analysis, which, even when democratic, is differently structured and enabled than in the West. Getting Pierre Trudeau's son into the picture, is as good as getting the senior George W. Bush's son, who also became Prez of the US, into the picture. Surprisingly slipshod analysis, this, coming from the writer who has done an excellent job in these columns earlier.
Syed Ahmed Apr 03, 2013 05:06pm
What about Bilawal. He just attended Oxford University (Christ Church), what else? By the way is Bilawal Zardari, and cannot be Bhutto in any case and cannot at par with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Jr.
Syed J Apr 03, 2013 05:10pm
Rahul Gandhi was born in Delhi on 19 June 1970,[3] as the first of the two children of Rajiv Gandhi, who later became the Prime Minister of India, and Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, who later became President of Indian National Congress, and as the grandson of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He is also the great-grandson of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Priyanka Vadra is his younger sister[4] and Robert Vadra is his brother-in-law. Rahul Gandhi attended St. Columba's School, Delhi[5][dead link] before entering The Doon School in Dehradun (Uttarakhand) from 1981
m kay Apr 03, 2013 05:21pm
comparatively speaking, 42 is still considered young. 40 the new 30 ...and all that jazz, you know.
Muhammad Ahmed Mufti Apr 03, 2013 05:31pm
By Pakistani cultural norms and particularly the naming conventions followed in Sind , Bilawal's last name is Zardari and not Bhutto. The name change has been made to fool the illiterate masses. The author should have pointed this out in the blog.
NMA Apr 03, 2013 05:34pm
Blairs kid is also in line, along with the Milibands here in Britain
saju Apr 03, 2013 05:46pm
Hi mind settler youth, select a system of your nation need to control on you, not at others wish of enmity of courage at wisdom,wake up. go to work , rather blaming on jackal politician, remove the poison injected by others with trust. other country only brings you venom at the interest of them, including most beloved irrespective of any thing
Md Imran Apr 03, 2013 05:50pm
I hope our Indian friends here will vote for Rahul Gandhi. Rahul Gandhi had the courage to tell the US Ambassador that hindu terrorists are the ones wrecking havoc in India and outside. Rahul Gandhi has also routinely criticized Modi and hindu organizations..that must take a lot of courage in a country like India.
vicky Apr 03, 2013 05:56pm
well first thing tell me,graduation or IT type of education is important for care your country people?I don't think so,pleas tell me Billawal Bhutto have gone to meet poor people,have he spend his at list one day in poor people,but let me tell you all Rahul Gandhi did,he had chance in past to become PM of India but for ur knowledge like to tell you he said no for PM post....just because he want to earn this position,for this he is working hard,pleas come India first and see what job he doing,just because of his Gandhi name hi is not youth icon of India,,,,Bilawal bhutto can become pakistani youth icon soon....Just because of name you can not become legend,if want need to earn it..with hard of luck to rahul gandhi and bilawal bhutto.
Kausik Apr 03, 2013 07:20pm
excellent article shows real poverty of leadership and methods of anointing leaders in developing countries versus developed democracies.It is really tragic that we can not choose leaders outside dynasties.India attempted pvn Rao was first successful prime minister but destined to dustbin of congress history same fate awaits Mr Singh the present highly qualified leader in entire world but not a household name with people.Bilawal is least qualified politically as he never contested or won a election his political wisdom questionable but Pakistan needs a charismatic leader to capture public imagination.whatever i read or seen of Rahul does impress as India also being very diverse and reginalistic,very difficult to get national recognition for example JP Narayan a clean educated leader has no national mass appeal.The parties have to change by having democracy and election of Leader instead of imposing.
Rogers Evans Apr 03, 2013 07:26pm
Please do not compare a mouse with tigers. Why Bilawal like kid should be given undeserved importance. He is not Bhutto. Mr. Zardari is mis-using the word "Bhutto" to wn elections. He must not mislead the nation.
abbs Apr 03, 2013 09:49pm
Very right
Shruti Apr 03, 2013 10:15pm
Why would you assume, Indians are not concerned about Rahul Gandhi!!?? We definitely are! You might have a point, in that you don't want Rahul Gandhi being discussed in the same articles as Bilawal Bhutto, for whatever reasons. But to say Indians are not concerned about dynastic-politics is ridiculous! And what point are you trying to make with him not being able to complete his M.Phil? How is that even relevant? Are politicians and government makers in any country always the most educated or smartest people? Or someone who scores very highly on an IQ test? I think this is true for people all over the world: We elect people for vision and the ability to deliver , definitely not for their educational or dynastic qualifications. And when people fail, its because they fail to take risk with new incumbents or to judge people currently. I would be more careful before branding anyone as foolish (you do the same mistakes as other, you are NO smarter!!)
jd shami Apr 03, 2013 11:35pm
Bilawal Zardari has no place in political Pakistan or I hope not.
krishgovind Apr 03, 2013 11:48pm
PakFan Apr 04, 2013 02:00am
I quote the writer "Both young men, however, have no real careers" In Urdu you can describe this sentence in just two words "Hud Haram".
Shan Apr 04, 2013 03:47am
We don't call Bilawal Bhutto, Rahul Gandhi... leaders.. they don't even know how to address gathering of people... Imran khan has that capability in Pakistan... and Modi, Sushma Swaraj in India... i am big admirer of their speeches ....
abbastoronto Apr 04, 2013 04:23am
How about Harper?
suresh Apr 04, 2013 04:28am
i think sense or the understanding of this article is right but some of the facts are not.
aviratam Apr 04, 2013 05:00am
I agree and I am an Indian.
abbastoronto Apr 04, 2013 05:20am
Well said. Dr. Murtaza is an academic, from the Ivory Tower. The view from high up is different than from the street.
anil tiwari Apr 04, 2013 05:35am
It is not the size of the inheritance but the metal & competency of the person inheriting the powers which matters. Aurangzeb inherited the whole Mughal Empire (with the worlds largest economy, with the worlds largest standing army, with the worlds best revenue system) and yet frittered it away with his needless campaigns which ultimately wipe out the Moghul Empire.
Qureshi Apr 04, 2013 06:29am
India has progressed so much more than Pakistan. Though u cannot see or accept it, this progress is due to the good educated politicians and Mrs Gandhi was one of them. Remember how she intimidated Nixon too. There is no point in blaming everything on politicians, people also have to do the right things
UmairR Apr 04, 2013 07:49am
A person who doesn't even know how to read, write and speak his national language is set to lead his country's largest and the most successful political party. P.S. by National language I was referring to URDU.
Adnan A Apr 04, 2013 10:27am
Well Justin Trudeau is seeking vote from Liberal party members to become Liberal caucus which is the proper and just way. Bilawal has not sought election to become party leader , he is just took over like martial law administrator and his mother did the same.
aviratam Apr 04, 2013 11:09am
I have seen nothing about Rahul Gandhi which would suggest he has "vision and the ability to deliver".
Ali Shah Apr 04, 2013 11:20am
Murtaza, how can you even compare Pakistani politics to the developed democracies of the west?
Guru Apr 04, 2013 11:29am
Agree. But can Bilawal tell the JuD, JI etc about the islamic fundamentalism sweeping Pak.
Dixit Apr 04, 2013 11:46am
Those who can read, write, understand national languages, are also doing no better for the countries on both sides.
Dixit Apr 04, 2013 11:52am
I am sure Mr. Imran if tomorrow Rahul Gandhi says something similar for muslims, you will start abusing him. True muslim huh.....
Irfan Baloch Apr 04, 2013 12:50pm
would he? is the real question he doesnt care problems in India, Pakistan & Afghanistan are of no relevance to him of course he would take interest in his assets & major bulk of his family fortune in Europe & Middle East.
Cyrus Howell Apr 04, 2013 02:15pm
He is in actual fact, Bilwal B. Zardari. Esq.
farid Apr 04, 2013 02:35pm
Bilawal and justin and Rahul Ghandi. There is no comparison. Bilawal can not even speak his national language and has no idea where tribal areas are. Justin and Rahul may be the famous sons but they are talented indviduals and their parents did not leave them chairmanships in their wills as queen bhutto did.
farid Apr 04, 2013 02:37pm
Hud Haram a great description for Bilawal.
farid Apr 04, 2013 02:39pm
Great description of the issue.
analyst Apr 04, 2013 03:09pm
What do you think of Nawaz sharif? How he became a political leader?
mushi Apr 04, 2013 04:29pm
Its all family business both in India and Pakistan.Please dont compare with west they are civilized people where they now the value of their vote.
iqbal Apr 04, 2013 04:42pm
Just to get the sympathy and votes of muslim , what his parents and grand parents did same language he also speaks. For your information congress is used muslim from past 65 year by telling that if the other parties come to power they will make muslims life miserable all riots happen in congress period only. Please make one part of Muslims come under one roof else you were used like tissue paper.
kellbell Apr 04, 2013 05:33pm
Hilarious!! Mr Vicky... Could you please tell me when exactly Rahul Gandhi had a chance to become PM? Let me tell you...its difficult for him even if he wants to become the PM in upcoming elections! Also, can you elaborate on how is he working hard...and to do what? Tell me some achievements that Rahul Gandhi has accomplished till date...
Naresh Sharma Apr 04, 2013 05:58pm
There is difference..between Readers and Leaders...
Raj Apr 04, 2013 06:39pm
Have a good clean laugh about Rahul Gandhi: Rahul Gandhi walks into ICICI Bank to cash a check. As he approaches the cashier he says, "Good morning Ma'am, would you please cash this check for me?" Cashier: "It would be my pleasure sir. Could you please show me your ID?" RG: "Truthfully, I did not bring my ID with me as I didn't think there was any need to. I am Vice President of the Congress Party. future indian PM. Cashier: "Yes sir, I know who you are, but with all the regulations and monitoring of the banks because of impostors and forgers and requirements etc., I must insist on seeing ID." RG: "Just ask anyone here at the bank who I am and they will tell you. Everybody knows who I am." Cashier: "I am sorry sir but these are the bank rules and I must follow them." RG: "I am urging you, please, to cash this check." Cashier: "Look Sir here is an example of what we can do. One day, Sachin Tendulkar came into the bank without ID. To prove he was Sachin he pulled out his bat and made a beautiful shot across the bank. With that shot we knew him to be Sachin and cashed his check." "Another time, Mahesh Bhupati came in without ID. He pulled out his tennis racquet and made a fabulous shot whereas the tennis ball landed in my cup. With that shot we cashed his check. So, sir what can you do to prove that it is you, and only you, future indian PM, Rahul Gandhi?" RG stands there thinking, and thinking, and finally says, "Honestly, my mind is a total blank... There is nothing that comes to my mind. I can't think of a single thing. I have absolutely no idea what to do; I just don't have a clue". Cashier: "Sir 500 ke note dun ya 1000 ke?
B.Awan Apr 04, 2013 09:06pm
Rahul is much better than this bilawal born with gold spoon he is complete disaster for pakistan the way his father broke all the records of corruption he will even cross the records of his father he knows only how to enjoy life on the beaches of dubai and uk parks he don't know the common problems of pakistan he is the son of wadera such tools are horrible for the progressive pakistan.
Kausik Apr 04, 2013 10:59pm
Bilawal is not truly a Bhutto as he is a zardari.I wonder what happened to Bhutto's sons one was killed but the fate of others not known.why ppp does not hold internal elections is a mystery.I find this ticket giving is a outrageous example of chauvinism instead of having primaries like USA where candidates contest for party ticket same is true in India also.Proportional representation as championed by JP in India should also be modeled in Pakistan.Dynasties must end and I do not think Canada is in any danger.
Punjabi Yaar Apr 05, 2013 01:39am
Rahul and his family is fake "Gandhi" as well. MK Gandhi had no relation to present Gandhi family.
kanwaljeet Apr 05, 2013 03:15am
Dear author, pls do some research before writing such article. How can you compare pakistan with matured democracies of india and canada. Dear dawn, pls save your standard.
Shruti Apr 05, 2013 04:03am
I agree! I didn't say Gandhi is a visionary. Infact quite the opposite. I am against the point that 'people should be elected for their educational qualifications. Not that Rahul Gandhi is rubbish! That he is.
hsandilya Apr 05, 2013 04:45am
India's progress is not because of the Gandhis but despite the Gandhis. The biggest strength of India is Indian who are, despite the endless fight on caste/community/language etc; business minded people. So, you might see Hindus and Muslims killing each others in a riot and the same people will do business with each other after few days, if it is beneficial to both of them. This desire of doing something better in life despite all odds has helped India survived despite our leaders. Pakistan will also start moving on that direction, the day Pakistanis realize that religion is a personal choice and should be left at home.
Sudhanshu Swami Apr 05, 2013 06:22am
Rahul is Talented ? yaar kuchh to soch samajh ke likha karo, Kisi ko Laugh attack aa gaya to kaun zimmewar hoga ?
Rogers Evans Apr 05, 2013 07:16am
Nawaz Sharif is product of etablishment. He was brought in politics by Gen. Zia. He is an opportunist and lack political sense.