Winners never quit? In many ways, the lone representative from Manipur at the Rajya Sabha Rishang Keishing is the most illustrious political leader from the state, even at the ripe age of 95 years. At the moment he is the oldest Parliamentarian and deserves a massive celebration when his term expires in April, 2014. Talks about his continuation for another five-year term is doing round. It is not within our jurisdiction to decide whether he should continue working and it will be overprotective and insulting for us to make suggestion about what is best for him and prevent him from doing what he wishes.
Rishang had been an enigma and there are few politicians in the states, within and outside his party, who can compare to his political acumen and achievement. He did not officially apply for consideration as the Congress party’s candidate but if the chief minister and the MPCC chief endorse his candidature (in line with the content of a news report) then there is no stopping his re-appointment. But the pertinent question is whether his election will benefit the state or will his conscience be in agreement. Around twenty active party members, including a sitting MLA, had forwarded their names for the post. Many of them are younger persons in the heights of their careers and capable of running the job on their own rights. The standpoints of the top leaders of the Congress party, which is sure of beating the competition with 42 MLAs, are bewildering if the reports are correct. There is no dearth of capable leaders in the party and choosing one among them could be considered as a well-earned rest for the nonagenarian leader. From the perspective of health, with people considering 65 years as the ideal time for retirement, the former chief minister has surpassed people who are thirty years younger. There is no ground to consider the argument for his retirement as a reprimand for the elderly. Also, with a young leader (Rahul Gandhi) being appointed as the campaign-in-chief for the Lok Sabha elections, the party should be freeing more places for its younger leaders and providing them good opportunities for growth. Many young leaders in the party had suffered from the party’s tradition of waiting for elder respected leaders to retire in order to progress along the ladder. The advantage of this argument is that it will allow newer ideas to be infused in the discussion for the welfare of the party.
Rishang has literally seen a lot of ups and downs in his political careers, from being a die-hard socialist leader, which he represented in the 1952 and 1962 Lok Sabha, and forsaking its ideologies to join the INC. He never parted company with the party since the mid 60s, even when he was left alone due to the ‘coup’ by Nipamacha in 1998. Rishang had enemies, even inside his own party. After his surprising defeat in the 2001 Manipur Assembly election, he faced marginalization and his nomination to the Rajya Sabha despite his growing difference with chief minister Okram Ibobi in 2002 was linked to his closeness to the Gandhis. It was a graceful distancing act from state politics. Of course, when he was re-nominated for the same position in 2008, it was admittedly due to the insistence of Sonia Gandhi. Rishang is well-respected and highly proficient in his job even now and brings valuable advantage of experience to the party. However, if other leaders are not given the opportunity now it will be far more difficult to encourage them later and the party need to think of the long term good of the party.