They love him in Hajipur, but very few of this generation would have heard of 88-year-old Ram Sundar Das. Before anyone reaches for a smartphone to locate Hajipur on Google maps, be informed that Das is India’s oldest MP—elected to the Lok Sabha from Hajipur in 2009 after roundly trashing 66-year-old Ram Vilas Paswan—a comparative youngster in politics.
Parliamentarians or not, Indians are living much longer than they did 40 years ago, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2012. The average Indian male will now live 15 years more compared to four decades ago, three years behind the Indian woman. Does this threaten to extend the gerontocracy of our democracy further as well?
The average age of an Indian MP is 53. Fourteen per cent are over 65. Only 6.5 per cent are under 35. Perhaps the Lok Sabha should be renamed the House of Elders since the current one is the third oldest since Independence. In 1952, only 20 per cent of MPs were over 56. Today, it has increased to 43 per cent. In the first Lok Sabha, not a single MP was over 70—in the 15th Lok Sabha, more than 7 per cent are geriatrics, with 36 MPs having crossed 70. Only 79 are under 40. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister at 74, ironically India had the youngest Lok Sabha since 1947, with an MP’s average age being around 46. Absurdly, the prime minister of our parent democracy is the youngest in Britain in 200 years, and his cabinet is the youngest among 15 of the biggest countries, which account for more than 60 per cent of the global population. As our democracy gets older, so do our MPs; in the first Lok Sabha, the age of 20 per cent of MPs was below 56. In the 15th Lok Sabha, it rose to 43 per cent. Thankfully, no woman MP is over 70, their average age being a good seven years less. The average age of our chief ministers is around 60; three are above 70, with two of them belonging to the Congress party: Sheila Dikshit and Tarun Gogoi. The youngest chief minister is
Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Singh Yadav at 39, though he is little more than a proxy for his 73-year-old father Mulayam. The oldest is Shiromani Akali Dal’s Parkash Singh Badal at 84. Only four out of 30 chief ministers are in their forties.
Age and experience triumphing over youth is mortality’s absolute apology. Power is a difficult viagra to spit out. India’s population is one of the youngest in the world with a median age of around 26 years. But our prime minister is the oldest among all elected world leaders and presides over a Union Cabinet that is the oldest in history. There is a 39-year-old gap between the average age of Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet and the median age of India’s population, while in G-8 countries it is only 13. The average age of a UPA II minister is 64-plus years. The majority of ministers heading all top ministries are 70-plus. Though India may have a government of fossils, three out of 10 MPs are from established political dynasties. All MPs less than 30 years old are sons and daughters of politicians; so are two-third of parliamentarians under 40. Of course the Congress leads the way with 11 of its MPs under 35, and 9 out of every 10 under 40 being hereditary. For national leaders such as Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Pawar and the Badals, politics is family business. All five RJD MPs are Lalu’s relatives; 7 out of 9 NCP lawmakers are part of the extended Pawar family, and two out of three in Kashmir are hereditary.
As India begins to live longer, so do our political dynasties. Is this national longevity worth it? Somewhere in the statistical DNA of our politics lies the answer to the longevity of corruption too.