India Uncut

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Perennial youth in Indian politics

Pramod Mahajan's death is a tragedy, for no better reason than that it makes Narendra Modi's ascension to the top of the BJP a lot more likely. As many analysts have pointed out, of all the contenders left within the BJP, Modi has the most popular support to take over the party. Hell, if it comes to power again, this man could be our prime minister. Oh, how we will miss Mahajan then: he was a man of realpolitik, not blind ideology, and I believe could have steered the BJP away from the extreme religious right, if only out of necessity. Now he's gone.

A common theme in all the tributes paid to Mahajan is the 'promise' he held: he has variously been described as "a young political leader with potential," a "young turk," and "one of its [the BJP's] most promising second generation leaders." Now, Mahajan was 57.

To put his vintage in perspective, Tony Blair became prime minister of the UK just before his 44th birthday, Bill Clinton became America's president at 46, José Luis Zapatero became Spain's president before turning 44, and even Dubious Dubya got to the top as young as 54. In India, though, the only prominent political leaders in their 40s are there by virtue of their families: consider Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Randeep Surjewala, Sandeep Dixit and Akhilesh Yadav.

Barring family scions, most well-known "young" leaders in Indian politics are fairly old, as young talent is constrained by a gerontocracy, its idealism rubbed out by a brutal political system that is resistant to change and accountability.

So if we do get good leaders in future, it will be despite the system and not because of it. That is our tragedy, that we must depend on happenstance, and flounder in the meantime.
amit varma, 4:52 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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