If this was meant to be defence of Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s track record, it seems to have backfired at least going by social media reactions. Congress leader Sheila Dikshit’s remark that Rahul Gandhi “is still not mature, his age does not allow him to be mature. He is what…in his forties. Please give him time” was in response to the Congress becoming marginalised in several states.
It is passing strange that someone who is 46 years old should be considered not mature enough when we have enough examples both in India and around the world of people much younger assuming enormous responsibilities. Let us look at India. Indira Gandhi was 48 when she became prime minister, Rahul’s father was 40. John F Kennedy took over the most powerful office in the world at 43, and Barack Obama was 47. Justin Trudeau became prime minister of Canada at 43 and Benazir Bhutto took over a volatile Pakistan at 40.
When retirement in the organised workforce is 60 in most professions, a person in his mid-forties can hardly be considered a stripling youth. At that age, a person is usually responsible not only for keeping down a job but also taking care of a family.
Politics in India does throw up some odd trends. For example, many people in the youth wings of political parties are in their late thirties to early forties. We have often argued that politics must reflect the aspirations of the people. India is overwhelmingly a young country so there is no reason for our political class not to reflect this. Yet a majority of our politicians are in their sixties and seventies, if not more.
Political acumen and wisdom are not necessarily predicated on age. In the case of both Rajiv Gandhi and Obama, to name just two, they came into office relatively inexperienced. They learnt on the job.
The Congress and other parties are doing a singular disservice to those in their ranks who are in their thirties and forties but who often do not get positions of responsibility on account of age. Since politics has no retirement age, the old guard is reluctant to make way for the young. But this does not mean that the younger generation, if people in their forties can be called that, is not ready to step up to the plate.
Whatever the merits of age in terms of experience and wisdom, there is no denying that age takes a toll on the ability to work long hours and come up with fresh ideas. The Congress, which has a very impressive second rung of leadership, should be showcasing them and pushing them to the forefront, led by Rahul Gandhi. To say that he needs to mature more is a disservice both to him and the party.