India's Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma has said that there is no vacancy for the post of prime minister. He means that Manmohan Singh is the Congress Party's prime minister. His purpose is to close the controversy over who will be the next Congress candidate. But Sharma is too junior in the party hierarchy to be taken seriously. Such declarations have to come from Sonia Gandhi, who heads the party or, for that matter, controls it tightly.

The love for dynasty is the bane of South Asia. Pakistan has Bilawal, the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and son of Benazir Bhutto. Shaikh Hasina, the daughter of Shaikh Mujib-ur Rehman, father of Bangladesh, has emerged as the tallest leader. Her son is not yet in the picture but who knows when he will come to the fore.

None thought of Rahul Gandhi even two years ago. The blatant manner in which Sonia has gone about inducting her son as the Congress's key general secretary does not delude anybody. She makes it clear that Rahul will inherit her mantle. The official organ of the Congress, Sandesh, says in its latest issue that Rahul Gandhi is capable enough to be the next prime minister.

Sonia has allowed party members to sing praises of Rahul, whose tenure in the Congress is so short that the number of months can be counted on fingers.

Still more unfortunate is the way in which the party has caved in to adopt Rahul. There are posters all over the country, carrying a large picture of only Rahul, with the slogan: Vote Congress.

Not long ago, the posters also had the pictures of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. What was a formality has been dropped. I saw such posters when I visited Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra recently.

Those who have followed Indian politics will testify that the Congress has been playing the dynastic card unashamedly for the past four decades.

Jawaharlal Nehru made his daughter, Indira Gandhi, the Congress president, when she was around 38, the same age as Rahul. Nehru wanted Indira to succeed him and, as former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri told me, she was all the time in his mind. But Nehru could not supersede tall freedom fighters on the scene.

When it came to Indira choosing her successor, she did not think twice. She chose the younger one, Sanjay, and put him in charge of the government after imposing the Emergency (1975-77).

When he died in an air crash, she took no time in selecting Rajiv, who during Sanjay's lifetime, was considered a political novice and kept out of any discussion on politics. He too was first made the Congress general secretary.

The Congress members are so cravenly attached to the dynasty that they know their place when any of its members steps in. Rahul is the one who has been chosen to stomp the country for electioneering. It is an open secret that he has a lot to do with the selection of candidates for the Lok Sabha election.

He is pushing out the old, weathered Congressmen in the name of youth. Manmohan Singh is nowhere in the picture. How can the candidates be loyal to him when Sonia and Rahul nominate them?

Yet all this may take the party nowhere. The Congress is no way near winning 272 seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha to get a majority on its own. They party may find it hard to retain even its present strength, 153.

Things are not favourable. The Congress has shrunk in space. It has had no adjustment of seats either in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. The two states have 120 seats in the Lok Sabha - Uttar Pradesh having 80 and Bihar 40.

After pitching its demand high, the Congress has come down to make up with Sharad Pawar's National Congress Party in Maharashtra, stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and the charge-sheeted Shibu Soren in Jharkhand.

The Congress may gain in Kerala at the expense of the Communists and to some extent in West Bengal, again eating into the Communist strength. But then the Communists are the Congress's natural ally. However unhappy they are with the Congress over the nuclear deal with America, they may have no option except to support Sonia when the Bharatiya Janata Party's L.K. Advani looks like forming the government.

Running India is not a child's play. But how do you convince the Congressmen who believe that anyone from the Nehru dynasty is their only saviour?

We, in South Asia, no doubt, love democracy. But we also have an obsession for the maharajas (kings) and the nawabs. (Muslim nobles). Even when they are not there, their children get our instinctive esteem. That is the reason why the region, however poor and backward, has had no revolution.

Democratic elections too see the power passing from one set of civil society members to another. The teeming millions are too dazzled or too suppressed to think of becoming rulers.

Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian high commissioner to the UK and a former Rajya Sabha member.