Until 1989, adult franchise in India was extended to all citizens of and above 21 years of age. It was only after The Constitution Act (the sixty-first amendment) of 1988 that the voting age was reduced to 18 years. The reason behind the 61st amendment was that “The present-day youth are literate and enlightened and the lowering of the voting age would provide to the unrepresented youth of the country an opportunity to give vent to their feelings and help them become a part of the political process. The present-day youth are very much politically conscious. It is, therefore, proposed to reduce the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.”
But the age qualification with respect to nominating candidates to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha remained untouched then, and this continues to be the case even today. Article 84 (b) of the Constitution of India provides that the minimum age for becoming a candidate for Lok Sabha elections shall be 25 years. Article 84 of the Constitution lays down the minimum age eligibility criterion for being a member of the Rajya Sabha as 30 years.
It may sound amusing to many that majority of the Indian society expects a woman to be mature enough to shoulder the responsibilities of motherhood by the age of 21 and a man to be mature enough to undertake the responsibility of fatherhood by the same age, but the Parliamentarians on the other hand don’t consider an Indian citizen to contribute significantly and productively in the governance process till the age of 25 or 30.
On one hand, the 61st amendment reduces the voting age on the grounds of advancement in literacy and the need for representation of youth in the political process but at the same time, refrains from officiating youth representation in the official processes and governance process conducted by the Parliament.
Do you identify any loophole? Was the move to extend adult franchise to 18 years and above just a political gimmick or a bluff to create vote banks? Or do Parliamentarians think that only people above the age of 25 are competent and mature enough to productively contribute to the governance process? It may also be possible that they didn’t consider this issue vital enough for deliberation and change.
Most Government employees have to retire after a certain age. The retirement age varies between 60 and 65 years. For e.g., judges of the high court have to retire by the age of 62, while the retirement age of civil servants like IAS and IPS officers is 60. Pension is granted to them only after successful completion of their term, counted from the date of the recruitment until the date of retirement.
Have you wondered why the same does not hold true for an elected political representative too? This is because a layman tends to associate a politician with a ‘ruler’ whereas, contrary to popular belief, “a politician is a public servant”, an idea which is well woven in the oldest texts of Indian tradition too. If the makers of the Constitution back in 1949 had vouched for the retirement age of other government employees then why not for MPs?
Did they regard MPs to be supermen or men who are divinely entitled to an eternal healthy life and a well functioning and adaptable brain? Currently, the oldest MP in India, aged 90 years is LK Advani, whereas the oldest member of the Parliament was Rishang Keshing who vacated his seat at the age of 94 in 2014.
Against the backdrop of contemporary India, upper and lower age limit eligibility should be regarded as both equally important and legitimate. An upper age limit must be set for citizens aspiring to contest elections for Parliamentary seats. If all government employees have a retirement age, then why does it not hold true for politicians too, who play the important role of public servants of India?
Public servants are endowed with many amenities upon being elected as MPs, and are privileged enough to enjoy some of these amenities even when not re-elected the following term. These amenities include accommodation facilities, furniture bills, subsidized telephone bills, water and electricity facilities, and ex-MPs continue to enjoy some of these privileges (railway tickets for them are free of cost). Like other government employees, pensions are also made available to every MP who successfully completes at least one term in the Rajya Sabha or the Lok Sabha.
One may surmise the obvious fact that there is a great discrepancy between the treatment of Government employees and that of elected politicians. Is it fair? Is there a need to reduce the amenities enjoyed by the MPs? In contemporary India, perhaps, amendments in these sectors are a must to ensure development of the nation and to control corruption. But would the politicians themselves ever introduce bills recommending changes like those mentioned above?
Candidates voluntarily stand for elections and are elected by us, the people of India, and are also accountable to us. Perhaps it is time that we stopped putting them on a pedestal and started viewing them for what they are: instruments meant to introduce positive change and reform.
-Contributed by Urvi Lahoti
Picture Credits: jagranjosh.com