What keeps the 63-year-old Narendra Modi spirited through this strenuous campaign trail? His aides credit his ascetic lifestyle and regular yoga exercises. Rahul Gandhi gets his energy from his evening runs and his occasional lessons in aikido, a Japanese martial arts form.
The two rivals, as with their ideologies, couldn’t be more different in how they prepare physically for their exhaustive daily rallies and public meetings, often hopping two or three destinations in a single day.
For politicians, even those who maintain healthy dietary habits and strict fitness regimes, everything goes upside down during the elections; facing months of laborious campaign can be torture. The three most talked about leaders in this election, including Arvind Kejriwal, have developed their own ways to keep their energy through their hectic schedules, long travels and high decibel speeches.
Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate, wakes up by 5am every day and begins his day with an hour-long yoga session. He then catches up with the news before settling down for a session of meditation to prepare for a long day that often ends only at midnight.
Gearing up for 185 public meetings during the nine phases of the Lok Sabha election that begins on 7 April, the Gujarat chief minister takes extra care of his throat and consumes only lukewarm water despite the summer and never eats food not prepared by his team while campaigning.
The four-time Gujarat chief minister prefers a light South Indian staple of plain dosa with chutney and sambar followed by fruit juice or tea for breakfast, and a Gujarati fare of rice, dal, vegetables and curd for lunch.
“His meals are very simple, non-oily and low fat. He completely avoids anything cold. Generally keeps his lunch light during days on which he hops from rally to rally. Dinner time for him is time to relax and relish his food,” a person who is aware of his routine said, declining to be identified. “Modi’s dinner is mostly Gujarati kadi, khichdi and vegetables but he is quite familiar with other cuisines too.”
He has his food and snacks carried from Gandhinagar during his public meetings. “He never eats at functions and meetings. He likes to go back to his residence for his meals,” said a BJP leader who travelled with him but didn’t want to be named.
Rahul Gandhi, 20 years younger and the campaign head of the Congress, is particular about his evening run. He runs on pre-planned routes wherever he stays while campaigning, even if he’s halted at a village. Whenever he is in Delhi, he takes his lessons in aikido and goes swimming or cycling.
With food, he’s less fussy than Modi. He does not mind skipping breakfast and on occasions has been happy to make do with ready-to-eat noodles, keeping his meals light during the day. To stay hydrated during his hectic travel, Gandhi sips on diet carbonated drinks or lemon juice frequently. But it’s chocolates he’s really fond of and that keeps his energy levels up.
The Gandhi scion also always makes it a point to explore the local cuisine during his election travels—a trait, Congress politicians say, he likely inherited from his grandmother Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister.
During his initial days in politics, Rahul used to travel with a family cook but now seeks the advice of state leaders for his evening meals or calls others to find restaurants that serve authentic local food.
In Kerala, he seeks out Malabar paratha, in Kolkata he loves to eat traditional Bengali dishes and in Karnataka and Mumbai he enjoys Konkani dishes. “He’s got a sweet tooth and loves coastal Indian dishes, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian,” says a Congress leader who has worked closely with him.
A relatively new entrant in politics, the Aam Aadmi Party’s Kejriwal follows an apolitical lifestyle similar to that of anyone travelling at length for work. During his successful campaign for the Delhi election in December, he carried a lunchbox packed by his wife.
Kejriwal starts his day early with yoga and meditation and prefers his food from home, but never refuses food offered to him by his supporters while on his campaign trail. Otherwise, breakfast is always a multi-grain staple like dal cheela (a mildly spicy pancake), and lunches, especially while on campaign trail, are light with a supplement of sandwiches.
If he is travelling for more than a day, the local party unit is informed of his dietary requirement.
The 45-year-old former Indian Revenue Service officer isn’t very experimental with food and isn’t keen on local delicacies, a person aware of his routine said. But the former Delhi chief minister, a diabetic, has a sweet tooth and his biggest weakness is hot jalebis.
Kejriwal has one thing in common with Gandhi—both love and go occasionally for vipassana, a Buddhist meditation form that involves taking off from the general routine for a few days.
They will probably find time for that only after the month-long election that ends in May.