Politically Correct

What do you do to stay fit?

I play one-and a half hours of pretty strenuous badminton every morning. This has been a ritual for the past 15 years. I gave up weight training some 5 years back, as it took a toll on my knee. Joints are my trouble spots: A couple of months ago I was nursing a tennis elbow after jumping into a game without warming up properly. I'm typically diligent about stretching before a badminton session, but on that day I was running short of time. I should have known better. Injury is the worst thing that can happen to a court regular. It takes just a twisted ankle or even a wrist sprain to put you out of action for several days. And not being able to play really frustrates me. Badminton is a great cardiovascular and even a total body workout. It also helps me to concentrate, strategize and to be mentally agile. However, exercise, to my mind, should be fun too, not just a routine thing you do for the benefit of your health. And badminton fits the bill on all counts.

Few Indian politicians pay attention to the state of their health. Has been fit helped you in your career?

Even a decade and half ago, it was a common to see high blood pressure, diabetes and other stress related ailments claim individuals in politics. Those days are gone. Today a lot of politicians hit the gym regularly and take steps to stay healthy. Having an ailment is a distraction. Being fit means you are able to devote more energy, more time, more focus to the task at hand. In short it help perform better.

When you are in public service, you day does not follow a set pattern. Some days you're moving form one high pressure meeting to another that demands all your mental resources. On others, you're sitting through an endless litany of complaints from the public. If you're lethargic, people will read that as disinterest in their problems and that can be perilous for a politician. When you're fit and healthy you can stay alert and show you receptive nature and readiness to react to any situation. So the discipline hat fitness traits extends into other areas of your life as well.

Politics is unpredictable. Do you always need to be armed with a Plan B and a Plan C to tackle a crisis?

Politics schools you two things flexibility and spontaneity. There are a number of times when the best of plans fail. The necessity is not always to be armed with a counter plan but to have a flexible attitude that accepts that in politics, at any given point, any challenge can surface. One needs to react with wit. The beauty of my profession in that it never allows stagnancy. There is no rule book in politics that can teach me how to react or that to do in a crisis. The crisis itself is the greatest teacher. You learn as you go, from experience.

How do you maintain cordial relations with people with what you have had a difference of opinion with or a fall-out?

The most difficult task expected of a politician is to keep his cool no matter what the circumstance. Remember, at the end of the day we are human beings. Not everyone can take everything in his stride with a smile. All we ca do is strive hard to do so, sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not. It is through this maturity to be at ease with the people with what you have a difference of opinion or a fall-out.

Of course age and experience also helps you to develop this attitude. When a politician expires at say, 54, we say 'Hum ne ek yuva neta khoya' (We have lost a young leader). Because that's about when wisdom sets in. It's also the reason an 80-year-old prime minister does not raise any eyebrows.

Politics is a profession where you have to work among your well wishers as well as foes. At no point can you overreact to a situation. You may be aware that the person you are talking to is probably trying his best to pull you down, but you still need to prevent any aggressive feelings from spilling forth. I think I have almost got too the state where I can set out differences and work with just about anyone.

Is every relationship in politics calculated ie developed purely to meet certain goals?

To be very honest and frank, there's no one right now down I can definitely call a friend, or a confidante. I do have multiple buddies, but I tend to compartmentalize my relations with them. Like my lawyer is a very good friend but I would not discuss politics with him.

Then I have selected cronies with whatever I can discuss political issues but nothing personal. I do not see this as a problem, or that I'm emotionally bankrupt. Rather it means I'm not dependent on any one person for anything. It's a practical approach. You need time to build trust and develop it in others. I have not quite reached that state where one confidante can do the trick.

But a politician has to gain the trust of others to build a following. How do you do that?

This is where I wish there is some kind of gizmo that I could use to make others believe in me. Unfortunately that is not possible. When I encounter suspicion and doubt. I realize then that had I been in that person's shoes I would have reacted in a similar manner. People do not believe in you simply because you're exhorting them to do so. It's through your actions that you convince them and win over followers. It's not completed skills you've also got to be patient and dedicated. At the end of the day it's how you make others feel that counts and not what others feel about your achievements. No matter what field you're in, people are put off by arrogance. They're drawn to humility and by this I do not mean the artificial caricature of politicians, but rather the kind that comes out of accepting ground realities.