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BW Businessworld

The Politics Of Stamina

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Given how an empty stomach can turn even the most mild-mannered person into an acid-tongued demon, and a full meal can turn around even the worst of days, it should also follow that the kind of food one eats also affects one’s behaviour and energy levels. There are a number of theories on the effects of meat on the body, but one common viewpoint is that it increases blood pressure (which sets off a domino chain of other effects). Eating veggies has its own set of consequences. 

Considering that India has a number of elderly statesmen who hit the campaign trail every election season, it may be instructive to know what they eat to keep up energy levels. After all, elections are usually bang in the middle of summer and involves a level of exertion that would leave even 20-year-olds wheezing and panting. Surely, politicians’ diets have a role to play in keeping them going.

Narendra Modi, who had around 100 rallies planned in April alone — sometimes with as many as six rallies a day — is a surprisingly light eater. He apparently starts his day with sprouts and sandwiches and carries home-cooked food — chapattis and sabzi — for lunch. He may seem like a red meat kind of man, but he only complements his frugal meals with fruits.

While Mr Modi’s diet may seem contrarian to his  character, Manmohan Singh’s diet seems more in keeping with his mild personality — no oil, spice or sugar. Now, who could blame him for keeping his mouth shut for so long if he only has bland, tasteless fare to look forward to every time he opens it? Jokes aside, there is much to be said about a simple vegetarian diet. Currently, there are few people in politics older than L.K. Advani. Yet, the BJP leader gallivants cross-country like a teenager. However, while a teenager stuffs himself with junk food, Mr Advani restricts himself to dal and roti for lunch and dinner, and toast and tea for breakfast. 

It’s not only Mr Advani; other aged veterans like DMK’s M. Karunanidhi and CPM’s V.S. Achuthanandan, both on the other side of 90, restrict themselves to fully vegetarian and frugal diets, and a dose of yoga and walking.

It is said that entering politics involves a whole lot of sacrifice, and that seems clear from the diets of the top rung of India’s leadership — President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. While Mr Mukherjee goes without fish for up to six months a year, Mrs Gandhi performs better when she stays away from those Italian favourites: pasta and pizza. Simple dal and roti suffices. But Mr Mukherjee has a secret weapon to keep the stress at bay: long walks in the morning and Rabindra-sangeet at  night. Mrs Gandhi, on the other hand, follows a strict yoga regimen.

5 Foods That Help Build Stamina
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Bananas
  • Lean meat, fish, chicken and eggs
  • Coffee and/or green tea
  • Walnuts, almonds and other nuts
Turning to history, Indira Gandhi’s letters to her father say: “We (Indira and her school mates) have the usual things: vegetable, fish, eggs, etc., but our salad is extra good. We get fresh leaves every day and everybody eats more of it than anything else.” Later accounts show that her  love for salads remained well into her adult life.

Further back, Mahatma Gandhi — the man of a hundred marches — was a strict vegetarian thanks to a vow made to his mother. But he also kept himself from drinking milk (he considered it unhygienic) or eating eggs (which he saw as immoral). A fan of drinks, Gandhi  preferred juices and squashes, but considered brews like tea and coffee unhealthy, and alcohol abhorrent.

But when it comes to dietary oddities, Morarji Desai took the figurative cake. Not only did he get his daily dose of minerals in the form of his own urine, but he also turned celibate at the age of 32! 

While the food they eat definitely helps, there has to be some secret formula for the seemingly inexhaustible fount of energy display come elections. From most accounts, yoga and long morning walks are key ingredients, but there’s more. According to Mani Shankar Aiyar, there is. “Yes, there is a secret ingredient: unflagging  ambition and monstrous egos that just do not allow you to rest”. Much like high-powered CEOs, even politicians find motivation and boundless energy in their overwhelming ambitions. They’re just pragmatic enough to eat right while they’re at it.  

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 19-05-2014)