Dr Duggaraju Srinivasa Rao
The recent revolt in the NCP Maharashtra unit has risen many issues besides the question of age of retirement for a politician. While focussing on the defections, the loopholes in the anti-defection Law, the role of speaker in issuing a time bound ruling on the defectors, ethics in splitting the parties and the role of BJP in instigating revolts in the regional parties etc., the other important question on the continuation of Sharad Pawar in politics despite being 83, as demanded by dissident group leader Ajit Pawar, is largely ignored by the politicians and parties. Not that probity in politics is less important but the age of retirement for politicians is also important issue to be debated by the public.
Perhaps politics is one of the few professions available where no age related retirement was proscribed by any law or conviction. Despite falling health, and age related cognitive limitations the politician never leaves the field to the next generation. In India we rarely here a politicians announcing their retirement from political arena unless there is some compulsive force. The politicians are a special tribe who wish to be in their profession till their last breath. Prakash Singh Badal of Akali Dal was doing politics till his 96th year, same is the case of CPM leader and former CM of Kerala Achyutanandan. That Karunanidhi of DMK was holding both to the party post and his position in the assembly till he breathed his last at the ripe age of 94. Mulayam Singh was there as member of Lok Sabha and mentor of SP till his death at 82. Deva Gouda of JDS now running 90 is active in Karnataka politics.
It is this age related leadership which is questioned by Ajit Pawar as he claimed to have been killing the political ambitions of other leaders in the party because of Sharad Pawar’s continuation in politics and party despite him being in his 83. For Sharad Pawar it is almost a blasphemous suggestion and he reacted with verbal violence. “Whether I am 82 or 92 I will continue to do the politics” was his angry response. When the question of retirement age issue was posed to RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav he said in his typical style saying “there is no retirement age in politics” meaning he is too young at 75 to think of retirement. Farooq Abdhulla of National Conference now 85 is also not contemplating retirement from politics and he said so without mincing words. The Congress president Mallikarjuna Kharge is 80 and Amarinder Singh who shifted to BJP after quitting Congress is 81 years.
Supriya Sule, daughter of Sharad Pawar, came to the rescue of his father by comparing what Amitabh Bachhan at 82 and Ratan Tata at 85 are doing in their chosen fields. “When no one is suggesting retirement by age for those two why to my father Sharad Pawar” was her question. One important issue Supriya missed is that Amitabh or Tata take care of themselves with their own money where as the aged politicians are to be taken care by the public fund. Politicians holding positions are a burden on the tax payers.
The public think that retirement age for politicians is desirable. This is not restricted to India but even to the American people. In a recent survey in that country over 50% wished to have limit at the age to be in public life. This idea is endorsed by Ellan Musk and former president Jimmy Carter too. Apparently American voters were not happy with their decision to elect Joe Biden, past 70 person, as President of USA. Certain Neuro-biologist are working on the declining responses of aged and the problems likely to be caused when the aged are placed in important positions of administration. The President of US is a leader of the world and his decisions have global impact. Such being the position, the relatively young and alert person in the White House is needed is what the gerontologists suggest. Next Presidential election in US is going to witness the “age limit Vs. term limit” debate among the voters.
Voters are citing the retirement age for all most all other jobs barring few professions like legal, medical, financial consultant and academics. Retirement age in all these professions the retirement of the person happens anywhere between 58 and 70. In military services the retirement age is linked to the physical strength and health conditions and sometimes they retire by 40 years of age from defence service. The other questions like advocates, doctors, film actors, business people continuing in their profession is subject to their efficiency level and clients confidence. Their efficiency or failure in the delivery of service will impact only clients unlike the failures of political leaders which is going to affect entire nation. So that comparison is neither desirable nor acceptable.
Then comes the question of “how old is old” and who should specify the age of retirement for politicians. It is futile to hope and wait for the legislature to come out with a law on the age of retirement for the politicians. Our law makers are known only to make laws favouring themselves and furthering their own political economic interests. It is difficult to imagine such a large hearted peoples’ representative voluntarily curbing their career through retirement age. It may have to start somewhere in the political level outside the legislature.
One such restrictive age for politicians was initiated by Narendra Modi after taking over the position of PM. Whether that was done with genuine concern for the people’s sentiment or for his own political interest is debatable. However the 75 year norm is set in BJP for holding positions. Yadyurappa of Karnataka, Anandi Ben Patel of Gujarat were taken away from CM post on the age consideration. Najma Hepthulla was asked to step down from Governorship on crossing 75. However there are some apparent exeptions and whether Narendar Modi who attains 75 as on 2026 will follow the rule he set or takes the exemption route created by himself will set the tone for the acceptance of age of retirement for politicians by other parties in the country. People wait for the day of fixation of age and wish to see the graceful retirement of politicians from public life.
(Author is retired professor and occasional contributor for dailies and magazines on politics and environmental issues. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])