On April 9, aged 94, having spent over sixty years as a lawmaker in the world’s largest democracy, Mr. Keishing says he will retire to spend more time in his garden.
“It has been a wonderful journey, but it’s time to retire,” Mr. Keishing told India Real Time in a telephone interview Monday from the north-eastern city of Imphal in Manipur where he served four terms as chief minister.
Mr. Keishing has spent the past two terms in the upper house or Rajya Sabha for the ruling-Congress party having been an MP for more than a decade in the lower house.
The veteran politician’s tryst with Indian politics dates back to 1952, when he was elected member to the first term of the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament, from north-eastern Manipur state for the Indian Socialist Party. He has since served as a state-level politician as well as the chief minister of his state.
Mr. Keishing joined the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Mr. Nehru in 1964 and remained a Congress politician ever since.
He has been a front-row witness to the turbulence of Indian politics since the freedom struggle in the 1940s and survived an attempt on his life in 1985 by alleged rebels in his state.
What worries him today, Mr. Keishing says, is the growing evidence of “vested interests” among politicians.
“When we had joined, political leaders wanted to serve the nation without any selfishness. Today, it’s not so,” said the Mr. Keishing who ruled Manipur until the late 1990s.
The popularity of the ruling-Congress party has plummeted in recent years as the government has wrestled with allegations of corruption against some of its leaders, an inability to control food inflation, an economic slowdown and concerns about the safety of women in the country.
Prime Minister Singh announced in January that he will not seek a third term as prime minister and the party is currently faring badly in polls ahead of general elections due by May.
For Mr. Keishing, both the ruling party and the opposition should show more appreciation for each other, in the national interest—something he says that has been missing in Indian politics in recent times.
“Leaders like Pandit Nehru and Sardar [Vallabhbhai] Patel welcomed us with open hearts and helped us wherever needed. Something similar is required now,” Mr. Keishing said.
The Indian Parliament descended into pandemonium earlier this month in a dispute over the creation of a new state with one lawmaker letting off pepper spray and another allegedly brandishing a knife during a debate.
Mr. Keishing, who worked with three generations of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi family, plans to devote his retired life to gardening and doing things which he couldn’t as a busy politician. But he promises to continue to lobby on behalf of his former constituents.
“I will keep raising issues that concern my state,” he said.
Mr. Keishing comes from Ukhrul district in Manipur, and is married to Khatingla Keishing. The couple have four sons and two daughters. In 1985, while chief minister, he survived a bid on his life when his convoy was attacked by alleged rebels. Four of his security staff were killed in the attack and several were injured.
In Dec. 2003 Mr. Keishing was congratulated for being a member of the first Lok Sabha by the-then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during a celebration of 200th session of the Rajya Sabha.