Gerontocracy in leadership: From India to US old men aren't leaving us any wiser

In India the BJP took the right decision to retire its leaders when they reach 75. But the Congress and other regional parties never bothered about age.
A  collage of Donald Trump Narendra Modi and Joe Biden
A collage of Donald Trump Narendra Modi and Joe Biden

America is the oldest constitutional democracy in the world. It is witnessing a dearth of political talent among young people of that country since the 2020 elections. In that election the two oldest men Joe Biden and Donald Trump fought the election almost in an unethical atmosphere. Again the same men are going to fight the 2024 election, in a more vicious atmosphere. 

Biden is 81 and Trump is 77. Both of them forget many things in public and their mental faculties have been questioned. Biden tumbles on the stage and falls down, yet does not want to leave the presidency. Trump is facing many cases, including one that involves rape of a woman and he is convicted too. He does not want to leave the presidency. What is more surprising is that both parties chose these old men with doubtful health and notorious character (in case of Trump) in their primaries making their next fight inevitable.

The United States seems to have run out of young creative and competitive people in the political realm.

Young created its constitution    

It was brought into the realm of a first written constitution by young people, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Three of them were young freedom fighters against British colonialism and served as its founding presidents. Washington became the president at the age of 57. Jefferson became president at the age of 58.  John Adams became president at the age of 62.

The founding presidents established the philosophical, ideological, constitutional and the moral basis of that nation. That was in the eighteenth century.

After these three greatest presidents, again three young Americans, Abraham Lincoln, John F Kennedy and Barack Obama emerged on that very land. They also became presidents at a young age and left an indelible mark on the global democratic systems and human history. Lincoln became president at the age of 56, Kennedy became president at the age of 46 and Obama the first black American became president at the age of 47.    

Now that talent is not forthcoming from among the young American men.  What is the situation among American women? The first woman who became the Vice-President is an Indian American at the age 55. The first woman who reached the stage of presidential nominee from proper American women is Hillary Clinton at the age of 69. No young American woman of the age group of the first founder three presidents or later greatest three presidents could emerge as a ruler of the country. The first woman who competed till the last day of primaries from among Republicans is again an India American Nikki Haley 52. No proper American Republican woman of younger age could come to reach Nikki Haley’s political competition level till date.  

Women leaders in the world

What does that suggest about women’s liberation movements in America? It was known globally as a country of feminist activists and theoreticians from the 1960s onwards. It is a country of the most educated working women. Yet no young or old woman could come to reach the White House.

Third world countries have produced quite talented young women leaders who lead their countries. Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the first woman PM of a nation in the world at the age of 44. Indira Gandhi became the PM of India at the age of 49. Benazir Bhutto became the first women Muslim PM in the world at the age 35 in Pakistan.  

Even Great Britain in recent years seems to have lost its ability to produce young dynamic political leaders from its original native stock. A young Indian origin Rishi Sunak became its PM at 42.

Why are young leaders not emerging? 

This raises the question: what is happening in America, in particular? Why is it that the country with such a vibrant education system is not in a position to produce young talented political leaders like what it did earlier? Maybe because American universities do not train young men and women in university level elections to become future politicians. Their campuses, though became a model for good standards in education, there is no college and university students unions election system. Such a system would have put students to compete and train themselves at university level in practical political life. De-politicization of campuses was introduced by America itself. Now it is spreading around the world.

The best example for a woman leader emerging from campus student union elections and becoming a good leader in her country is Benazir Bhutto. She contested Oxford University Student’s debating society in 1977 and became its president. That experience seems to have taught her about the leadership role back in her country.

What about India?

In India too old people becoming Prime Minister is allowed. Morarji Desai became PM at the age of 81. PV Narsimha Rao became PM at the age of 70. Manmohan Singh was made PM at the age of 70, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became PM at the age of 75 in 1999.

Power is a poison. People do not want to leave once it is in their hands. If there is a scope to capture it even while one is incapable of handling it with dying human energies they capture it. once  in it they do not want to leave it.


A theoretical concept for such old people not leaving power is ‘Gerontocracy’. In simple terms it is known as the rule of old where new ideas and creativity died down. Such old people ruling any country would engender a host of power managers from behind either from one's family or from relatives or friends.

Nikki Haley demanded a mental ability test for all those who run for high offices after 75. She is absolutely right.  

In India the Bharatiya Janata Party took the right decision to retire its leaders when they reach 75. But the Congress and other regional parties never bothered about age.  However the question is: will Modi retire when he reaches 75?

He and his party made it clear that he will be the next PM with 370 seats on their own and 400 seats for the NDA alliance. Modi becomes 75 in his mid-third term, if he becomes PM after the election. The BJP and RSS  seemed to have reached a stage, what will happen to their power after Modi?  Hence depend on him as long as he delivers. But how long? Even beyond 75 at the cost of principle. 

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