I like Jaswant Singh. I think he was arguably India’s best External Affairs minister in the post Nehruvian era. I cannot think of another politician in that time who could have handled the diplomatic fall out of the Pokhran tests during the Vajpayee regime better than him. When I recently read his book – ‘A Call to honour-In Service of Emergent India’ where he elucidates the complex negotiations he had with the US leading to the relaxing of sanctions much earlier than the world expected, my respect for him went up a few notches. So it was extremely sad to see the same Jaswant Singh last week waging a lonely battle of sorts with his party for not nominating him from the seat of his choice. When the party wanted him to retire gracefully, he wanted to retire after a last race!!! He was visibly tired. Even the vocal energy was missing. Those grandiose articulation skills which helped him stave off many a diplomatic challenge didn’t come of use in his own turf battle. Diplomacy they say is “an art of give and take” or rather “appearing to give and take”. Jaswant Singh nor the party leadership was in any mood for even appearing to give in. The result – Mr. Singh had to throw in the turban in the election ring as an independent and has been expelled from the party. While the curtain on his career is certainly down if he loses, I am not sure if the climax will be anything interesting even if he wins. With this episode, has he become a foot note a petulant one in that in the party’s history?? History will judge.
It’s not just Jaswant Singh. We have leaders across the spectrum of parties in India for whom a “graceful exit” is an alien concept. At an age of 87, one would expect a patriarch to provide abundant blessings, plentiful advice and be a fatherly figure. But, here we have Mr. Advani throwing fits about where he will contest for the next Loksabha elections. When his tenure ends he will be 92 – not an age one expects to have the energy to energize the nation of a burgeoning youthful population. Giving him illustrious company is the “Kalaignar” from South – Karunanidhi who at 90 is doing all what he can to prevent the “Rising Sun” from sinking. The visuals of an immobile leader being wheeled from meeting to meeting his mastery over Tamil language notwithstanding are hardly inspiring.
Is it just politicians?? Nope. In sports too, we have enough examples of exits happening only when push comes to shove. It was my humble opinion that even God aka Sachin Tendulkar called his retirement a couple of years late. In the context of retirement, a very used cliché is – “One must exit when people ask why now and why not?” However if one surfs through history of legends, it is mostly of the “Why not” variety. Whether it was Kapil Dev or Saurav Ganguly. That’s why a Sunil Gavaskar who stepped down from captaincy after a World Championship win or retired from tests after one of his best knocks is still respected and that’s why a Rahul Dravid who decided to hang up at the 1st sight of self-doubt will be spoken with high regard.
This disease has plagued industrialists who run empires as well. I know of a group where the Chairman who in his late 80’s still tries to be active in running the business. He used to say that he will stop attending office the day his son (in late 50’s) starts acting responsibly which is when he attends office on time!!! And his son used to claim that he will be in office on time the day his dad has confidence in him and stops attending office!!!
Hence in this “I will not give up” atmosphere, one was pleasantly surprised to see Jairam Ramesh of the Congress declaring that in his party, leaders must retire at 70. It’s another matter that his party soon disowned his lofty comment as a personal lament.
Let me for the moment limit this issue of “No Voluntary Retirement” to the sphere of politics as that is of public importance. It can be safely concluded that but for extreme bad health nothing else stops politicians from trying to be politically active. Are physical strength and mental alacrity not critical in matters of governance? Jairam Ramesh also added “People unfortunately in India don’t know when to exit. That is why most mentors become tormentors”!!! Is this “not stepping down graciously” an “Indian” thing? For want of adequate information, I am unable to conclude. Is it time to amend laws to stipulate upper age for contesting in elections? Will the leaders who hang around themselves will ever come together to bring about this legislation?
Only time will tell. Till such time, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee a man with a liberal gift of the gab once said “Na Tired, Na Retired” will be the overarching theme for our netas. “Young nation with Very Old leadership” is what looks like is preordained for our country. But I think the time has come for a national debate on this.
Is this Mr. Kejriwal speaking,…???”
Cartoon credit: www.cartoonistsandeep.com