I must admit a particular fondness for former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh’s biweekly column in the Business Standard. I was not a great fan of him as a politician, and was happy to see him go when he was accused in the Iraq cash-for-food scandal, but there’s a certain freshness and honesty in the column that I’ve learnt to appreciate. Having had a colourful political career, he has a lot of stories to tell, and though some of these are already well-known, there is value in reading the way he narrates them.
This makes me crave for more such pieces, but the unfortunate fact about Indian politics is that there are few retired politicians. Unlike in developed countries where most politicians go out of office before they are seventy, and then hang around making money by giving speeches and critiquing their successors, the people here continue in active politics even after they’re well into the proverbial seventh age. Look no further than LK Advani who, well into his eighties, still harbours the hope of becoming India’s prime minister one day.
While one result of this is that senior citizens occupy all the posts that matter in a country like ours that is so young (in terms of median age), this also means that there are no retired politicians. This means that there are few people who have seen it all, from the inside or the outside, who are now free from any contractual or political obligations, and so can afford to educate us about all that they’ve seen.
Now that makes me think that our political parties are afraid of people who are still around but out of the system, since their personal and party incentives are not aligned any more. Hence, it might be a possibility that political parties give out posts to senior party members as a sort of dole, so that they don’t retire and tell the wider public all that they know.