Home >politics >policy >Two 92-year-olds play starring role in Assembly elections

Chennai/Delhi: Both of them led their respective parties in spirited campaigns, both have been former chief ministers, both are looking at (perhaps) one last shot at being in power and both having seen the turn of nine decades are defying age and debunking popular stereotypes by owning a place in young India.

Meet two 92-year-old leaders—Velikkakathu Sankaran Achuthanandan who led the campaign of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala and Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, the patriarch of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)—two veterans of Indian politics, often defeated but never out of race.

If the exit polls released on Monday hold ground, both veterans are likely to emerge victorious on Thursday at the end of counting votes. While Achuthanandan, or V.S. as he is popularly known, is contesting from Malampuzhha in Kerala, Karunanidhi, who has never been defeated in any election in the last 60 years, is contesting from Thiruvarur constituency in Tamil Nadu.

V.S. is physically very active and led an extremely hectic and strenuous election campaign over the last two months. He interacts freely with his supporters at election rallies, walking among them, often getting mobbed but always being a key attraction. He follows a strict diet regimen and does not miss his daily morning walk. He is a mass leader who enjoys support across all age groups and duly taps into the cadre-based organization of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

For DMK supremo Karunanidhi, who faced elections for almost six decades, Monday’s poll was his 13th contest. The last time he stood for elections in 2011, Karunanidhi won from Tiruvarur for the first time, with the highest ever margin of 50,249 votes in his political career, with 62.96% share of votes.

Born as Dakshinamoorthy, Karunanidhi has been bound to the wheelchair for several years now. Though that has affected his physical activity, he follows a rigid routine over several decades and is known for his time management. His day starts at 4.30am and a newspaper reading session follows. In a routine that is filled with meetings and other duties, he never fails to write for at least one or two hours in a day.

“Both have led a very important public life. But there are striking differences between the two," said Gnani Sankaran, writer and political analyst. “For example, unlike Karunanidhi, you cannot associate Achuthanandan with family politics or corruption."

When asked about age as a factor, Sankaran added, “If the exit polls are true and if DMK wins, it would not be counted as an achievement of Karunanidhi, but that of M.K. Stalin. Even if Karunanidhi becomes chief minister, Stalin will be the force leading from behind."

Supporters of both leaders feel that they still have a long and successful political career ahead of them and that age is no bar when it comes to making electoral choices.

“He is the best man to lead CPM as well as to lead the government if LDF gets voted to power. In Kerala, age does not matter. If you are good enough at your work, age should not be an impediment. V.S. is so active; I have not seen anyone in my extended family as active as V.S. in that age," said Binoja Antony, a 46-year-old employee at a lottery shop in Ollur in Thrissur district of Kerala.

Karthik, a 22-year-old engineering graduate from Chetpet in Chennai, said, “Though he is old, he is alert and can make quick decisions, which is a quality lacking in other state leaders."

Notably, both V.S. and Karunanidhi belong to two of India’s states which have the highest ageing population as a proportion to their total population. According to the 2011 census data, 8% of India’s total population is above 60 years of age. Break that into states, and Kerala is at the top of the list with 12.6%, followed at the second spot by Tamil Nadu at 10.5%.

Although India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, according to a report released by Helpage India released last year, those above 60 could make up for 20% of India’s population by 2050.

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