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'There should be a retirement age for politicians'

April 30, 2019 11:07 IST
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'Politics is not a post for retired people to enjoy.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi greets Lal Kishenchand Advani on his 91st birthday, November 8, 2018.
Advaniji was denied a ticket to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Gandhinagar, which he has represented since 1998. Photograph: @narendramodi/Twitter

O Rajagopal, the senior-most Bharatiya Janata Party leader in Kerala, the first and only BJP MLA in the Kerala, will be 90 this year.

Though age has not caught up with him, he believes there should be a retirement age for politicians.

He says he is looking forward to 2021 when he will retire from political life.

"It is essential for old people to give way to the new generation," Rajagopal --- who served as a minister of state in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government -- tells Shobha Warrier/ at his home in Thiruvananthapuram.

In 2014, when Narendra Damodardas Modi came to power, he decided to have only politicians below the age of 75 as his ministers. This time, the BJP did not give tickets to those above 75 like L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sumitra Mahajan, etc. which was criticised by many.
Do you feel politicians also should have a retirement age?

Certainly. If you can have a retirement age for all other jobs, it applies to this job also.

At 90, I am past all that! I am in fact, disqualified. I am happy that there is a retirement age now as there will not be any pressure on me to contest after this.

I am waiting for 2021 so that I can retire.

I feel it is a right decision taken by my party. In fact, I feel it should have come long back.

If it had come earlier, I would have been enjoying a retired life.


The criticism against Modi and (BJP national President Amit Anilchandra) Shah is that they want to keep the seniors away...

Such criticism is unwarranted. When Modi decided to form the government itself, it was decided that people past 75 should not be in the Cabinet.

They wanted to bring in more young people. It was a good decision.

IMAGE: O Rajagopal, the senior-most BJP leader in Kerala. Photograph: Shobha Warrier/

When Amit Shah decided to contest from Mr Advani's seat in Gandhinagar, it was portrayed as if he was insulting Mr Advani.

It is a right decision for a healthy party that is looking for young talent. After all, it is the youth that can deliver.

Politics is not a post for retired people to enjoy, like a governor's post.

If an old person is fit and mentally agile, should his experience not be utilised for the betterment of the country?

I feel it is taking a great risk. Yes, there are exceptions where some old people are mentally agile.

But if they go on continuing, when will the next generation get a chance?

Whether you are healthy or not, it is essential for old people to give way to the new generation.

That is how it should be. The young generation also should get an opportunity to work, it shouldn't be hogged by some old people alone.

To have a good social equilibrium, there is need for one generation to move back to give way to the next generation.

Also, after a certain age, your ability to disseminate goes down, thus affecting your decision making ability.

At the same time, raw youth without any experience is also not good. They should be trained well before giving an opportunity to function.

What would you say about Mr Advani's blog criticising those in the BJP who have been labelling people who do not agree with them as anti-nationals?

What Advani wrote was 100% right. In a democracy, somebody who disagrees with you is not your enemy.

There are different views in a society. I have always been of the opinion that different views should be accommodated, understood and respected.

Nobody should think that what he says is always right. Also, what you think as right today may not be right tomorrow.

I will give you an example from my life. The very first protest I participated in was against the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).

It was in 1948. I was a college student at the Victoria College in Palakkad. I was playing badminton with my friends when the news came on radio that Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

We stopped playing immediately and there was a gloomy atmosphere in the entire hostel.

There were two groups of students in the college then, the Congress and the Communists, and I kept away from both groups.

But after the assassination of Gandhiji, these two groups joined together and said it was the RSS that killed him.

We all believed them and I joined the torchlight procession on the streets of Palakkad shouting, 'Down! Down! RSS!'

In those days, as a devotee of Swami Chinmayananda, I used to attend his Gita classes regularly.

One day, when Swamiji came to know that (then) RSS chief (Madhav Sadashiv) Golwalkar had come to Palakkad, he got excited and said, 'I must see Golwalkar.'

Swamiji was one person I admired and when he spoke so excitedly about someone, I got interested.

I was shocked to see a saintly person because I was expecting a ruffian!

At that time, I didn't know much about the RSS. Later on, when I came into contact with many RSS people, my opinion of the organisation and its members changed.

IMAGE: Narendra Damodardas Modi with senior BJP leader Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, who was denied a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha election from Kanpur which he represents in the current Lok Sabha. Photograph:

Why are BJP members so intolerant to criticism? They don't take criticism in the right spirit.

I don't think they are intolerant. When the Opposition says something like 'Narendra Modi is a curse to the country', those who know him, his views and what he wants to do for the country, may not relish it. They respect him for what he is.

But calling them anti-nationals...

That's not right. There is a point in what Advani said. There will be two views on every subject.

Just because somebody won't agree with your opinion, you cannot call him anti-national.

Sometimes because of youthful exuberance, you tend to have such extreme views. That's not a mature view point.

The party also should not approve of such an attitude. Anybody can disagree and criticise.

After all, we have a system, a parliamentary democratic system which we have borrowed from the British, where the Leader of the Opposition has been given a prominent position as important as the Leader of the House. The Leader of the Opposition gets Cabinet rank.

Do you feel the quality and maturity of the political class has come down of late?

When you have a mass party, you will have people of all sorts. But people in the leadership should see to it that the maturity of the cadre should be evident in their activities.

I also want to add that many of Rahul's reactions are childish. He does not behove the stature of the Leader of the Opposition. He should have the maturity to take the country with him.

IMAGE: Narendra Damodardas Modi with Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, who opted out of the 2019 Lok Sabha election after the delay in granting her a BJP ticket to contest the Indore Lok Sabha seat, which she has represented since 1989.

In the five years of Modi rule, two issues that dominated were beef politics and cow vigilantism. Is it right to lynch a person just because he had beef at home or he sold beef?

What happened was not right. People have the right to take whatever food they like.

At the same time, there was an organised effort to tarnish the BJP's image highlighting something that happened in some remote place in UP or Bihar as if incidents of that sort were regularly happening in the country.

No, those were isolated incidents. Not that I approve of even those isolated incidents; they should not have happened. But playing them up as a regular and common thing was not right.

Didn't the BJP leadership fail in making them realise what they did was wrong?

It was a group of rural people in a particular area who behaved that way.

A section of the media wanted to play it up as if the BJP was responsible for it.

The BJP may not have any hand in them. But the media should realise that playing up such isolated incidents creates a bad image of the country when that is not the real image of the country.

It doesn't mean that we should ignore or tolerate even such isolated incidents.

Many people felt at that time that the party gave more importance to cows and cow shelter than Indians. Though the BJP has not spoken about cows in the 2019 manifesto, in the 2014 manifesto, cows got prominence.

In the 2019 manifesto, the party has not spoken about cows or cow shelter. It is not a priority item now.

Priority now is a clean, efficient, administration with focus on development, development strategies involving people which is sabke saath, sabka vikas.

IMAGE: Kalraj Mishra, who also lost his ministership after he turned 75, with Narendra Damodardas Modi. Photograph: PTI Photo

Many people feel Modi is not talking about vikas now, but on national security and patriotism because not much vikas has happened in the last five years. What do you say about that?

Please understand that you cannot repeat the same slogan again and again. It does not mean that you give up vikas.

As time progresses, your focus also should shift and come up with new ideas.

About the criticism that no vikas happened in the last five years, it depends upon your view on what really is development.

When Modi came to power, only 38% of the people had toilets in India and for the first time, a prime minister spoke about the need to have toilets at an Independence Day speech.

In 5 years, 98% of the population have toilets. This is a great achievement.

Providing these basic facilities is also part of vikas.

You almost won a seat for the BJP in 2014. Do you feel the BJP will create history in Kerala in 2019?

It will begin with Thiruvananthapuram. From here, it will spread elsewhere.

The Kerala political scene is changing. In fact, the Communist way of thinking is almost dead all over the world.

It is going to the museum. In India, only in Kerala, it is alive.

And the Congress is surviving because of the communal breakup of the population.

In Kerala 50% of the population belong to the minority community which is not the situation anywhere in India, and the Congress pretends they are the champions of the minority community.

Do you plan to retire once your term in the assembly ends?

I am in retirement mode already. After all, I will turn 90 in September. My term will end in 2021.

Good that my party has decided not to give tickets to those who are above 75. I welcome that.

So, after 2021, it will be a normal, routine, healthy retirement for me.

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