Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Old Men of Indian Politics

Old Namaskar! When will we retire from politics?

Old age may be equated with wisdom but in politics wisdom evaporates with old age. “The older I grow”, wrote American journalist and writer H.L. Mencken, “the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom.” So is there any similarity between Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani apart from their prime ministerial ambition? Yes, both the politicians have tuned grey. Manmohan Singh is 77; Advani is 82. That brings us to an interesting question: Why do we Indians – whose half population is under 25 – have prime ministers and political leaders on the wrong side of the age?

Consider this: Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first and longest serving prime minister, was 58 when he took charge of the country in 1947. Lal Bahadur Shastri was 60 when he became prime minister in June 1964 after the death of Nehru. Indira Gandhi was only 49 when she became the first and the only woman prime minister of India in 1966. Rajiv Gandhi was barely 40 when he became the prime minister following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Vishwanath Pratap Singh was 58 when he succeeded in becoming prime minister in 1989. Chandra Shekhar was 63 when he took over prime ministership in 1990. H.D. Deve Gowda was 63 when he became prime minister in 1996.

So what were Manmohan Singh and L.K. Advani thinking when they exchanged verbal volleys? Was this an attempt to distract public attention? Nobody disputes the fact that Manmohan Singh is a meek prime minister. But is L.K. Advani a strong candidate for prime ministership as advertisements portray him to be? (A point worth-noting: L.K. Advani is the only Indian prime minister aspirant who is perhaps spending millons of rupees on advertisements) L.K. Advani may not have undergone heart surgery like Manmohan Singh but in essence he is weaker than the prime minister. In a press conference recently, he flexed his muscles by lifting a pair of dumbbells! This strategy was to diffuse the public perception that Advani is an old man. But wrinkles on his forehead cannot be straightened with a shot of botox injection! Advani is essentially a week man although he has been billed as India’s “iron man”. Why is Advani silent on Varun Gandhi’s communal outburst? It is not the first time that he has adopted the conspiracy of silence. Is that a sign of an iron man? Or has he become a man of irony?

If Manmohan Singh underwent a heart surgery then Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a knee replacement in the year 2000 as a prime minister. It was a replacement of the knee of nation! Can we imagine that the “heart” and “knee” of nation are so weak that it requires an operation to fix them?

Then there are politicians who can’t even walk: Arjun Singh (79), our HRD minister, walks on a wheelchair. A.K. Antony (69), defence minister, recently fainted while attending a parade in Pune. Pranab Mukherjee (74), who still dreams to become prime minister, can be seen catching forty winks at campaign rallies. BJP stalwarts Jawant Singh and Yashwant Sinha are above the age of 70.

Jyoti Basu, the longest serving chief minister of Bengal, was part of the CPI (M) Polit bureau till April 2008, at the age of 94! Karnanidhi is 85 but still heads DMK! M.K. Naraynan, our National Security Advisor, is 75! What kind of security can we expect from him?

Why can’t we have a legislation to put restriction on the age of politicians? We already have a legislation by which bureaucrats retire at the age of 58. Although both politicians and bureaucrats are public servants but we treat them with a different yardstick. Alas, no such legislation is going to come forward from any political party because all parties are united on this: they intend to rule India till the last breath! India will not witness the dawn of professional politics as long as this “democratic freedom” is curtailed. Perhaps this tradition of rewarding old men of politics is borrowed from Joint Hindu Family Firm (JHFF) where ‘Karta’ remains the head of the family as long as he is alive!

One cursory look at other democracies reveals that the politicians are far younger. Barack Hussein Obama, president of United States, is only 48; Gordon Brown, prime minister of United Kingdom, is 58. Nicholas Sarkozy, French president, is 54.

The Indian politicians will rebuke the idea of political retirement because politicians never ‘retire’; they are only ‘tired’! There must be an age for political retirement, say, 65. Politicians will have 7 grace years as compared to bureaucrats! Isn’t this a good hypothesis for politicians? For those who don’t agree on 65 as the age of retirement, consider this:

After 65, Alzheimer’s disease is very common in developed countries like America. Indian politicians have been victims of Alzheimer’s disease as well. From Ranganath Misra to Sri Krishna to Sachar Commission, Indian politicians have literally “forgotten” the real issues of Indian Muslims.

Isn’t this a result of Alzheimer’s disease?

Sunday Inquilab, April 5, 2009


swayam said...

I liked the last paragraph very much. Yes, most politicians gloss over real issues even when asked to take a stand on them. But otherwise, I feel age is not necessarily a factor, rather wisdom, ability and a total awareness of current realities are more important. Sadly very few politicians qualify.

I, Me, Myself ! said...

You make a very valid and pertinent point. I tend to incline towards the argument that ministers and Prime Ministers have to be a blend of energy and experience. 40-55 years of age would be an ideal age for candidates to lead the country/state. But the drive to enjoy the power ( and in some cases, sans the responsibility :D ) is not something that will die with age, in case of our leaders!