What keeps our senior politicians going?

May 5th, 2009 - 10:34 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Shweta Srinivasan
New Delhi, May 5 (IANS) What keeps our senior politicians, many of whom are in the 70-plus category, healthy in the heat and dust of the campaign trail? Answer: their frugal eating habits, active lifestyle and an inner drive powered by the adrenaline rush they get when they interact with so many people.

“It amazes me that a lot of people get exhausted and tired as they cross 60 or even earlier, whereas these leaders are doing really well despite their taxing schedules and irregular dietary habits,” says Ashok Seth, head of cardiology at the Max Heart and Vascular Institute here. “There is an inner drive and psychological component to this.”

“During campaigning the entire atmosphere pumps you up. They give speeches, meet their would-be voters, and their adrenaline levels go up. They are motivated to not let daily health problems affect them,” said Seth, who has treated many senior leaders.

Most senior leaders claim they are fit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, who underwent a complex heart surgery in January, was said to have recouped specially fast. However, the number of campaign rallies he has addressed has been relatively low, especially when compared to opposition leader L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who is 81.

“The PM is absolutely fit now. His recovery was very speedy and we attribute this to his willpower and wish to be active,” his personal physician K.S. Reddy told IANS over phone.

“Working actively in any sphere, even politics, can lead to a fast recovery.” he added.

Advani has said in interviews that he has frugal eating habits, drinks lots of liquid and maintains a disciplined routine every day without unnecessarily stressing himself.

“I don’t know why media keeps harping on his age,” Advani’s daughter Pratibha told CNN-IBN, saying her father was fitter than people half his age.

Several senior leaders follow a strict regime of “eating light”, exercise and sleep during the campaign, while others like 69-year-old Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and 59-year-old Gujarat chief minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi rely on meditation and yoga to keep themselves fit.

Mulayam Singh’s close aide Rajendra Choudhury told IANS over phone from Lucknow: “Since he is from a rural background and has had 50 years of struggle and an active life - his stamina and energy don’t waver.”

“He has been in politics for over 30 years - he is still as energetic as ever. No young leader can match up to him or his spirit. His determination keeps him going. He is fit. He sleeps for four to five hours, eats simple food - since it’s summer he drinks cold drinks and lots of water.”

Sameer Parikh, a leading psychiatrist in the capital, emphasised that for these aged politicians who play pivotal roles in the country’s politics there is a mindset that they cannot fail. This compounds their willpower.

“It’s the high point in their life and they feel they cannot fail here - their willpower and power of mind have a role to play in keeping them physically healthy. It’s a make or break thing for them.

“Every occupation has its pros and cons. But for politicians, the fact that they are passionate and engaged with the public - that gives them energy to keep troubles at bay. A high level of functioning does perk up the immune system.”

The fact that 65 percent of India’s voters are under the age of 35 and that 100 million are first-time voters this election require that these old politicians impress despite their own age constraints.

After sweating it out for five decades in the political arena, earlier this year Advani was even seen trying out weights at a gymnasium - as a part of a campaign to woo young voters.

External Affairs Minister and senior Congress party leader Pranab Mukherjee, 74, on the campaign trail in Murshidabad, West Bengal, told the media recently: “Above all I am a political leader and so I get an adrenaline rush when I meet people.”

(Shweta Srinivasan can be contacted at shweta.s@ians.in)

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