The grey House of our democracy
Women may not have got proportional representation in Parliament yet, but senior citizens had more than their fair share of seats in the just-dissolved 13th Lok Sabha. Eighty-year-old Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee led a grey brigade of 77 members over 70 years old. K. Karunakaran, the Kerala Congressman, was the oldest member of the House at 86.
Available data indicates that the average Lok Sabha member’s age has increased steadily over the years, barring a sudden, inexplicable dip in the 12th Lok Sabha.
The Parliament’s official web site (www.parliamentofindia.nic.in) shows no members above 70 until the sixth Lok Sabha, which was convened in 1977 after the Emergency.
However Parliament of India’s web site is, like many of its members, not very trustworthy: for example, the statistical analysis on the site says there were only 33 members in the last Lok Sabha over age 70.
While the aging House may be taken as a sign that people, including politicians, are living longer in India (they are: average life expectancy at birth has gone up from 49 years in 1970 to 64 in 2002), it’s no indicator of democracy in action.
The geriatrics voting their own would have got maybe 22 members in the Lok Sabha. After all, people over 65 constitute a mere 4 per cent of the population.
There would, however, be many more young people in Parliament if people voted their age.
This Lok Sabha had only nine people below 35. Bhavana Gawali, the Shiv Sena member from Washim in Maharashtra, was the baby of the House at 31. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav’s son Akhilesh Yadav, who is just over a month older, was her closest rival for this title.
The largest group in the Lok Sabha has always been people in the 41-55 age group. That didn’t change in the last House, and chances are, it won’t change this time either.