Hajipur, Bihar: At 93, Ram Sunder Das is among the oldest candidates to fight a Lok Sabha election, but the sitting Janata Dal (United) MP from Hajipur is undeterred by his age as the "bright future of democracy" allures him to once again take on Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan, whom he had defeated last time.
Mr Das, a former Bihar chief minister who was first elected to Lok Sabha in 1991 at the age of 70, rues that the character of national political parties has changed drastically over the years and they are divided on the basis of caste, religion and region.
"All national parties have been turned into regional parties. Their character has changed and all this is because of petty self-interest," Mr Das claims.
He says that with increasing political uncertainty, problems have also increased.
"Factionalism has increased, so has group-ism. Political parties are divided into different groups on the basis of caste, religion and region. And they are making compromises for small gains," Mr Das told PTI.
Age may not be on his side but Mr Das doesn't want to loosen his grip on politics as he keeps himself busy in campaigning and consequently combating the summer heat.
He says that there has been a sea change in the poll campaign over the years.
"Politics has seen a lot of degradation. Logical arguments should take place in a healthy democratic process... One can raise thorny issues, but in a dignified manner and within certain limits," Mr Das says.
Besides Mr Das and Mr Paswan, Sanjeev Prasad Toni of the Congress, Dhaneshwar Ram of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party's Veerchandra Paswan, among others, are also in the fray for the May 7 polls.
In 2009, Mr Das defeated Mr Paswan by 37,954 votes.
Born in Gangajal village of Bihar's Saran district on January 9, 1921, Mr Das joined Congress Socialist Party in 1945 and later Praja Socialist Party before becoming a member of JD(U).
On changes in the democratic process that he has witnessed through these years, Mr Das says, "Democracy is a very hard-earned asset. It is there and will be there. There is no better system than democracy."