Octogenarian Congress leader Virbhadra Singh is longest serving chief minister after Sikkim’s Pawan Chamling. At 86, he follows a routine of hectic travelling and 18-hour workday, yet keeps going. Today, he gives away his secret.
Virbhadra starts his day with yoga at 5. After a cup of tea, the early riser goes through files and newspapers — doesn’t mind calling a journalist in the wee hours or an official late into night for clarification. Meeting people in the morning brightens his day. “I get revitalised when I see them happy.”
“Nothing can disturb his peace of mind. He attends to every visitor,” his principal private secretary, Subash Ahluwalia, says. Facing disproportionate assets cases has been stressful, both mentally and financially, “but I know I will come out clean”. “By the grace of God and people’s love, I have survived a major heart surgery two decades ago.”
“God knows the source of his strength,” even his principal secretary, TG Negi, wonders. “My inner strength,” Virbhadra says, “comes from my daily morning ritual of praying to my ancestral deity, Goddess Bhimakali.”
Does he exercise. “Yes, my entire day it is not less than a workout.” So when does he relax? “While travelling, and in the evening at home, with television news and my favourite serials.” In food, his taste is ‘pahari’. Usually, oat and porridge in the morning , and an occasional serving of ‘bathu ki kheer’. Virbhadra is diabetic, on insulin, but can’t resist his sweet tooth.
He says no to retirement from active politics. “Abhi to main jawan hoon (I am still young) and I can beat anyone in the amount of work and stamina,” he says. Even memory loss is only partial. Can’t take the workload? Need a regular medical check-up? “Nothing of that sort... workload you can imagine, I told you I work for 18 to 19 hours a day. People’s faith is my fitness mantra.”
But should there be an retirement age for politicians? “As long as people have faith in them, they should keep serving them.” At his age, how does he deal with constant pressure from the BJP: “Muddai laakh bura chaahe to kya hota hai, wahi hota hai jo manzur-e-Khuda hota hai (People may do any amount of plotting, only God’s will prevails).”