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NOT THE RETIRING TYPE

Old soldiers never die, they fade away. Lovers go to Naples before Venus or Eros gathers them up. But what about politicians? A cruel answer would be that they descend immediately to hell. But before that level of finality, there is the question of retirement. How long should a politician continue to cling to power or pursue the fruits of power? The issue is serious because politicians tend not to retire and continue on what, for the lack of a better expression, is best described as ‘borrowed or extended time’. The redoubtable Winston Churchill, arguably Britain’s best prime minister in the 20th century, refused to recognize that his time in politics was over and that he was but a shadow of his former self in his second term as prime minister. Power is an addiction and very few can give it up; the pursuit of power continues to drive those who seek politics as a career. The points made above are particularly true for politicians in India, who continue to go on till the death tide takes them into the ocean of time.

Common sense would suggest that since politics is a career these days, it should, like other professions, have a retirement age. But in real life this does not happen. Politicians do not, at the best of times, operate on common sense. They prefer to function on self-interest. In India, one reason for this is the fact that politics has become more than a career or a vocation. It is seen as an avenue for money-making on a very large scale. So politicians are stubborn in their refusal to discuss the issue of a retirement age for their own kind. Politicians, when it comes to their self-interest, choose to work as a closed shop. They legislate their own salary increases and rule out of court any mention of a retirement age. They would prefer to carry on as long as they are compos mentis. It is an age-old question first posed by Juvenal: “who will guard the guards”? Who legislates for the politicians, since politicians are responsible for legislations? Even if the question of legislation is kept on one side for the moment, it is relevant to remember that politicians in legislatures account for only a portion of all politicians. There are politicians who do not enter the legislatures, since they do not contest elections. How can they be brought under the ambit of a retirement age assuming that such a law could be passed?

Political parties are like exclusive clubs that make their own rules. A general law may not be applicable to them, or they may not agree to implement such a law. It would appear that the issue of a retirement age for politicians can only be left to the goodwill of politicians. This runs contrary to the assumption of self-interest stated in the previous paragraph. However cynical it might sound, the political ward can easily be renamed the geriatric ward. Age cannot wither politicians even if custom renders them stale and putrid.