Our Aged Yet Agile Netas: What’s The Secret Of Their Energy?

Ever wondered what keeps Badal, Mulayam, Modi, Advani, Sonia & Pawar going strong in their 70s, 80s and 90s?

4 min read
(Illustration: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Mulayam Singh was in the thick of his family feud. And the national media wasn’t making things any easier for him. In a noisy press meet, a journalist asked his reaction to a statement from the opposite camp; they had called him an “old man”.

“Who is old?” asked 77-year-old Mulayam and looked at his 61-year-old brother Shivpal, who was sitting next to him on the dais. “No one is old here,” reiterated Netaji.

If they were in the government services, Shivpal would have retired by now and Mulayam would have been a pensioner for 17 years! But in politics, Netaji (as Mulayam Singh is known among his party workers) still has the vigour to fight for political relevance. And Shivpal is considered a young leader by his followers! 

In Punjab, 89-year-old Parkash Singh Badal is the chief ministerial candidate of the Shiromani Akali Dal. In Uttarkhand, 88-year-old BC Khanduri is a CM hopeful. Most leaders in poll-bound states are senior citizens, including Manipur CM Ibobi (68), Mayawati (60) and Goa CM Laxmikant Parsekar (60). 61-year-old Manohar Parrikar, who is BJP’s face in Goa, is considered a young leader!

Try comparing them with your grandparents, who constantly grumble about ailments or have probably begun to forget things. Ever wondered, then, how an 80-year-old Manmohan could perform the duties of the most demanding post in the biggest democracy of the world?

The Secret Is In The Mind, Say Doctors

There are two parts to the longevity of these warhorses. The first deals with the issues of physical ageing, which we will see a little later. The second part is related to the mind and it’s the more important and distinguishing factor. We often hear that politicians live only on will-power. Is it true? And is it possible?

Motivation is the most important thing. For politicians, power is the biggest motivation. And to sustain themselves longer, one has to be cognitively active without any break.
Dr Sandeep Grover, Expert in Geriatric Mental Health

Given the political situation in India, leaders realize that they have to fight long battles. If one goes through biographies or routines of prominent leaders, one finds that they start preparing their minds as well as bodies from an early age.

Power is the greatest elixir. The stimulus of power gives them animalistic power and immense positive energy. I’ve seen it in many leaders – from Morarji Desai to Indira Gandhi to Balasaheb Thackeray. Remember how a frail Narasimha Rao bloomed when he suddenly got the PM’s post? These leaders don’t think of retirement. They don’t look at politics as a career. It’s their passion.
Ambarish Mishra, Senior Journalist
Then Prime
Minister PV Narasimha Rao with Aishwarya Rai after she won the Miss World pageant in 1994. (Picture: Reuters)
Then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao with Aishwarya Rai after she won the Miss World pageant in 1994. (Picture: Reuters)

Yoga Is Another Secret!

The motivation to be in power pushes the Karunanidhis and Pawars of Indian politics. But what about their bodies? Aren’t they weakening with progressing age?

Yes, but there are ways to overcome many age-related problems. And all the politicians who’re playing long innings have taken good care of their health. Sonia Gandhi (70) and PM Narendra Modi (66) never miss their morning yoga sessions. Sonia Gandhi has never made it public, but Modi has been vocal about it.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga with
others during a yoga camp to mark the International Day of Yoga, in New Delhi,
India on June 21, 2015. (Picture: Reuters)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi performs yoga with others during a yoga camp to mark the International Day of Yoga, in New Delhi, India on June 21, 2015. (Picture: Reuters)

DMK patriarch Karunanidhi has been wheelchair-bound for over a decade, but he does his daily exercises with his hands without fail. Before that, he’d do full body yoga every day. 93-year-old VS Achyutanandan is an ageless comrade who crisscrossed the dusty roads of Kerala in the recently held Assembly polls. He does “mild exercise” in the morning and then meditates. Former chief minister of Maharashtra, Manohar Joshi says that the right combination of exercise, food and motivation keeps him going strong at 80.

I walk at least for an hour every day. That keeps me fresh. I feel happy when I work. So, I work non-stop. And there’s so much work to do. That keeps me going. Sometimes, the thought that I can die anytime creeps into the mind, but at the same time, I think of all the work I’ve to accomplish before that. So, it’s absolutely wrong to tell old leaders not to have ambitions.
Manohar Joshi, Senior Shiv Sena Leader

All the leaders who’ve braved the scorching heat of dozens of elections have one more thing in common – timely and simple food. Former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani (89) eats completely oil-free, home-cooked food. All the leaders mentioned above strictly follow the timings of their breakfasts and lunches.

The successful septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians are marathon runners. They know their long-term goal. They’re prepared for the race. And they know how to deal with the ups and downs in their path. So, India may have the world’s largest young population, but in politics, oldies run the game!

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