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Age-Criteria for Politicians : Modi’s Masterstroke?

December 2, 2014

Age-Criteria for Politicians in IndiaNarendra Modi’s ‘under 75’ formula has thus far made him successful in thwarting potential challenges from party stalwarts such as Murli Manohar Joshi and Lal Krishna Advani. He has deftly marginalised other leaders who are over 75 years of age by making his formula rule of the thumb.

The formula, initially meant to deny ministerial rank to anybody above 75 year of age, now seems to be applicable to the selection criteria for party candidates in state elections too. Obviously, the decision resonates with Modi’s thrust on youth. But is this healthy for a functional democracy where the onus is on the people to decide who they want to elect as their representatives in the legislative bodies?

Age has been no Criteria for Contesting Elections

Old age certainly cannot be the criteria for disqualification for any legislator or parliamentarian and Indian Constitution is quite clear on this provision. The Constitution does not prescribe any retirement age for any minister either.

It may be recalled that Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister in his eighties. Similarly, Inder Kumar Gujral became the PM when he was just two years short of turning eighty, while Charan Singh became the PM at the age of 77. Even BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee remained the country’s PM till he was 80. Even then he was projected as the PM face but his party lost the elections in 2004.

No Early Entry to Politics

Unlike any other job, even the entry to electoral politics is not very early. The Indian Constitution provides that the minimum age of entering the electoral fray cannot be lesser than 25 years. Moreover, for an Upper House member, the qualifying age has to be 30 and none can become the President or Vice President or Governor before attaining 35 years of age (Consider the legally marriageable age for an Indian male is 21 and for a female is 18).

Given the not-so-early entry into politics, politicians even in their late forties or mid fifties are still considered young in politics in India.
Modi has Identified Youth as BJP’s key Constituency: The BJP under Modi has made a clear demarcation between the young and the old. Obviously, this appeals to the youth voters. The 2014 general elections saw almost 150 million new voters casting their votes for the first time and clearly Modi had identified them as his crucial constituency.

Other Political Parties not Keen on Age Factor

Modi’s predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, was at the helm of affairs at the Centre till the age of 82. The story is the same in states also. The Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal is 87 years old! Significantly, his party the Shiromani Akali Dal, is an alliance partner of the BJP in Punjab.

Similarly, the Congress CM of Himachal Pradesh, Virbhadra Singh, is still young at 80. In Jammu & Kashmir, the J&K People’s Democratic Party patron, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, will turn 79 in January. He is contesting the state assembly elections as the party’s CM face.

Consider the case of Ganpatrao Deshmukh who at the age of 87, recently won in the recent Maharashtra Assembly elections for a record 10th time on Peasant and Workers Party’s ticket from Sagole constituency.

Youth Leadership: A Global Trend but there are Exceptions too

The thrust on youth leadership is a global trend nowadays but there has been a fine semblance of youthfulness and experience. Consider the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi is still in his thirties! However, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano is 89 years old. He became the President in 2006 when he was already in his 80s.

The British PM, David Cameron is just 48 years old and is already a PM for four years now. Yet the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is approaching 89. She has been the queen of Britain since 1952.

In fact, there are at least ten world leaders – monarchs, presidents or PMs – still in their 30s. One of them, Kim Jong-un – the 31-year-old Supreme leader of Korea who inherited the despotic rule of his father and grandfather – has made the world sit on the edge because of his nuclear programmes.

There are many leaders in their 80s who still rule their respective countries. The controversial President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, has been the President since 1987 and there is no sign of him relinquishing the post even as he turned 90 this year.

USA: Ceiling on the Tenure, not on Age

In the world’s oldest democracy – the USA – the ceiling is not on age but on the tenure of the President. No President can be elected to the office for more than two terms after the Twenty-Second Amendment to the US Constitution on 21st March, 1947.

Thus, President Barack Obama will retire after his second term as President, while still in his fifties!

The oldest US president was Ronald Reagan who was just 16 days short of his seventieth birthday when he became the president for the first time in 1981. He was re-elected and continued in the office till he was 78. Still he remains one of the best US presidents in the minds of many Americans.

So, is Modi right in disallowing a 75+ leader either from becoming a minister or from contesting elections? There are no easy answers.

WBDP02.12.2014

EBVD

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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