A little after 5 pm on Wednesday, as the Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day, Rishang Keishing, 94-year-old MP from Manipur, quietly left his seat and headed for the exit — for the last time in his life. The oldest serving parliamentarian in the world will not attend the last two days of the ongoing session. His term in the upper house ends on April 9.
No one saw him off, no TV cameras followed him, as Keishing, unescorted and unnoticed, hailed his car to leave the Parliament complex. He said he liked it this way.
Keishing is attending a meeting of tribal representatives in Manipur on Thursday, and had hoped he would be able to listen to some interesting debates, perhaps over the Telangana Bill. But that was not to be. Non-stop protests led to the Rajya Sabha being adjourned multiple times, and the Bill was not introduced.
“I’m sad that Parliament now is not what it used to be. It’s only shouting and shouting. MPs now are like trade union leaders, they come here only to demand this and demand that. This is not the Parliament I knew,” Keishing said.
As a member of the Socialist Party, Keishing was in the opposition in the first Lok Sabha. He has shared the floor of the House with giants such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Acharya Kripalani, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Ram Manohar Lohia and Govind Ballabh Pant.
“Those were the debates to listen to. They could make you think,” he said.
He recalled how men of the stature of Nehru, Azad and Mookerjee never held back in their appreciation of a good speech made by a lesser-known junior like Keishing, even if they disagreed ideologically. In later years, Keishing said, he got the chance to listen to “great orators” like former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the jurist N C Chatterjee, the father of former speaker Somnath Chatterjee. “The entire House would listen in rapt attention when they spoke,” he said.
Keishing’s association with the Congress started in 1964, and he got to know all the big leaders of the party. “I personally took Indira Gandhi’s ashes to Imphal. I worked with Rajiv as well. Both were great patriots, incorruptible. Although Rahul has never held any administrative post, he is also free from corruption. He must follow in his family’s footsteps,” he said.
Having had four terms in Parliament — in the first and third Lok Sabhas and in Rajya Sabha from 2002-2014 — and after spending over a decade as chief minister of Manipur, the 1920-born Keishing has not known a life outside of politics. And he did not intend to change that now, he said.
“I am 94 years old. I don’t know how many years I have left. Maybe two or three. I will not stand in any election, but how can I retire from serving the people?”