In the fitness of things
In the fitness of things

The fitness of political leaders has, in recent times, become a popular subject of discussion in the general public. Everyone needs to be fit physically, alert mentally and stable emotionally. This is particularly so with political leaders who lead hectic lives and have extremely demanding schedules. The physical strain, in particular, is considerable. 

From the wee hours of the morning to late at night, streams of visitors throng their houses and offices – none of whom can be turned back without an audience. Frequent travel goes with the turf, sometimes on account of the duties attached to their offices, and, at other times, on political considerations. And travel is not confined to comfortable air travel. 

Very often road journeys have to be performed over bumpy and dusty tracks. Their presence is also often required, sometimes to partake in joyous occasions and, at other times, to share grief of the electorate. No matter how tired they are, they cannot afford to show irritation, nor can they ask for a break for resting.

Very often, for several days at a stretch, they are denied the benefit of home-cooked food and have to eat the food and drink the water they are given. Not to do so would be tantamount to showing disrespect to their hosts. They are called upon, in addition, to stand for several hours on end in processions, and sit patiently through long public meetings, listening to others’ boring speeches. 

Even after sleepless nights they cannot afford to blink in front of cameras. Nor can they, having attended meetings well beyond midnight, avoid having to rush to airports and railway stations to meet visiting dignitaries in the early hours of the succeeding morning. And, especially at the junior levels, they have to wait patiently to snatch a few minutes with an important senior leader and and use that window by summoning their communication skills to make a crisp presentation of their issue! Their immunity and fitness levels have to be such as to prove equal to all these challenges.

As if the possession of all these extraordinary attributes is not enough, successful political leaders will, in addition, need to have an exceptionally – nearly photographic – memory in addition to a smattering of knowledge in most subjects that arise in their day-to-day lives. What is more, they should have the ability to recognise at least a few important persons from each village of their large constituencies, to greet them by their names and also know enough about them to enquire after the welfare of their family members and colleagues.

And that is not all. On top of all these qualifications, accomplished politicians should possess the uncanny ability to read between the lines while communicating with their peers, and especially, adversaries. They should also be able to perceive the nuances of unspoken indications from the high command. And their grasp of politics should be deep and wide enough to analyse which section of voters voted for whom in the previous elections, which candidate switched how many parties and how many have remained loyal to them among the followers. And last, but not the least, they should possess skill instinct to constantly monitor the pulse of the general public.

Emotional stability is also called for, as such leaders have to remain immune to the vicissitudes of political life and have the equanimity to accept defeat and victory without undue elation or disappointment, accepting the accolades that follow success with the same attitude as the humiliations arising from failures. In short, they need to be the ultimate optimists, who can retain positive thinking no matter how hopeless a situation may seem to be, and also able to infuse the same spirit into their followers.

It is precisely because of this extraordinary combination of Physical Quotient (PQ), Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ) that the average political leader has greater life expectancy. So much so that 60, the normal age for retirement for people from other walks of life, is generally accepted as the level of entry for them. And it is not uncommon to find many of them accepting, if not seeking, responsibilities even at 75!

This columnist had the privilege, during his career in public service, of working with several important political leaders. Every one of them, almost without exception, had their own methods of keeping fit, in order to prove equal to the challenges posed by their responsibilities. NTR, for instance, used to wrestle in the wee hours. NJR used treadmill and KBR did vigorous cycling. CBN as well as YSR followed strict exercise routines. Justice Hidayatullah regularly played golf even into his late 70s. All of them also had their own ways of allowing their minds to move away from the concerns of the office and to relax.

For physical fitness, each leader has his way. NTR got up at 2 am and started working while Chenna Reddy almost went to sleep at the time when the former woke up! Those who taunted Deve Gowda on his tendency to nod off during meetings, in his days as Prime Minister, will do well to see the manner in which he is able to stay active in politics today even at the age of 86.

But the notable thing was that all this was done discreetly, and away from the gaze of public or media. None of them talked about his so-called ‘3-dimensional’ fitness and never felt the need to flaunt their fitness, and most certainly not to the extent of challenging their rivals to demonstrate theirs. This was the case because they knew that their fitness was not only expected but taken for granted by public, who regarded it as a presumed attribute of their leader.

The important point in all this is that the three quotients invariably go together. PQ, for instance is by itself, not enough. Had that been the case Dara Singh, the wrestler, would have been our Prime Minister! And Clint Eastwood was elected Mayor of Carmel–by–the–Sea, not because his voters expected him to fight anti-socials like a screen cowboy, but as they expected that he would give them a clean and efficient administration and they found him fit to fulfil their hopes. It is with similar hopes and aspirations that a sanguine electorate picks an Amitabh Bachchan or a Vinod Khanna as their MP – in the hope that that they will voice their issues in Parliament. They do not expect them to physically fight with opponents. 

People are interested much more in observing how a Chief Minister or a Prime Minister performs these functions rather than the skill with which they perform calisthenics or acrobatics. They are even less interested in what they eat or drink. It will be recalled that, during his last years, MGR was barely able to speak. He managed almost entirely through gestures and signals. But the people had no objection to it at all. So much so that even his successors were voted to power by invoking his name. 

In sum, as Kumaraswamy, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, recently put it in response to a challenge, what matters is what a leader does to keep the government system in good fettle – even much more than his own body, mind or soul. Whether a leader can do ‘Sheershasan’ or not, people will be quite happy if his approach does not result in the administration becoming topsy-turvy!

It is time for us all to realise that the citizens have our great country come of age. What they really expect from those in power, those in whom they have reposed trust and faith, is the ability to combat discrimination, injustice and weakness, and apathy in the administration. They are much more interested in the way in which the inflation curve is bending, rather the extent to which ruling leader can bend his back! They prefer a slim cabinet and an agile government machinery to a slim and agile PM or CM!