Quite recently, news agencies were falling over themselves to broadcast the impending return of the patriarch of Kerala politics, K. Karunakaran, to active public life. It is rumoured that he shall be offered the post of Governor, possibly of Tamil Nadu. I watched a news feed in which Karunakaran was being interviewed by several reporters en route to a chair inside a posh building, presumably a party headquarters. It took the venerable old man nearly 5 minutes and the support of two people to walk the 10 feet from the entrance of the building to the chair that had been kept aside for him.He was panting the whole distance, and the two attendants were literally carrying him almost all the way. He was finding it hard to hear the reporters’ questions, and had to rely on his retinue of supporters to repeat the questions loudly to him so that he could hear it properly. Of course, none of his old age seems to have affected his mind, which is still as sharp as ever. In fact, it sometimes seemed as if his difficulty in hearing the questions properly was nothing but a ploy just so he could get more time to reflect upon the answers before enunciating them.
All this got me thinking. The first and foremost thought of course was that politics in India seems to have degenerated into “Geria”tics. Ours has been a culture that has always laid emphasis on the importance of elders in making decisions that affect the entire family. When, after independence, we moved in to the Parliamentary system of democracy, we carried forward that mindset along with us. So now we have political leaders pushing 70 and 80 in our Parliament, who regularly doze off in the back benches, the unforgiving demands of governing a nation proving too much for them. We have a prime ministerial candidate, L.K.Advani, who is all of 84. There could only be two reasons for these individuals to put themselves to such trials at an age when they should have, by all rights, retired from active life.One, they might be labouring under the assumption that the nation could benefit from their experience and wisdom. Two, they might have got so used to the concept of power that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to renounce it. I personally suspect its the latter.
How else can one explain the fact that a 90 year old man is willing to make a public spectacle of himself in front of the media? How is it that the very leaders who promote the entry of youth into the governing bodies shoot down a tentative proposal put up by Rahul Gandhi of a 30% representation for young leaders in the Parliament? Why is that in a nation with more than a billion citizens, campus politics and youth leadership programmes are only seen as a tool to gain political mileage? Indeed, campus politics is nowadays a cheap excuse to furnish free muscle power for the older leaders to exploit during dharnas and hartals. I have been a card holding member, albeit an inactive one, of one of the more popular campus parties in Kerala. I have seen personally how students are exploited in the name of state politics. Campus politics should be focused towards improving the lot of students and bringing together faculty and students for the betterment of education. It should also be aimed at increasing the interaction of students with the outside world, so far as it facilitates them to contribute to the society in a constructive manner.
Let’s have more youth participation in politics and social services. India is a young, vibrant and dynamic nation. If we are not to lose the momentum we have gained over the past decade, we need younger people at the helm of affairs. I don’t know if you have seen the Mani Ratnam movie YUVA. If you haven’t, go see it. It explains a lot of things.
PS. I am a firm supporter of retirement age in politics. There should be a fixed age beyond which it should be illegal for any public servant to pursue active politics, with or without monetary benefits. They can stay on in the role of consultants and advisers.