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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2736

Spin On Manmohan’s Health

By Allabaksh - Syndicate Features

The nation seems to have gone into a tizzy over the health of the prime minister, who had a successful second bypass surgery in New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Don’t get it wrong: there is every justification for worrying about the health of the nation’s chief executive. It is in the interest of the nation’s health that Dr Manmohan Singh stays hale and hearty.

It is the way this concern about the good doctor’s health has been expressed that somehow does not seem right. There was an equally generous coverage of the likely fallout of the prime minister’s long convalescent period. For days the media was full of stories about heart ailments, detailing its symptoms and the treatment available along with details of the prime minister’s ailments complete with extensive interviews and opinions of medical experts.

Some reports injected a controversy into the treatment of the prime minister. The arrival of a team of surgeons from 'outside', from a private nursing home in Mumbai, was painted as a slur on the reputation of AIMS and its team of doctors. It could well have been seen as an effort to reinforce local efforts by bringing in these specialists because the person to be operated upon happens to hold a very important position, that of prime minister’s.

Dwelling at length about the condition of Manmohan Singh’s heart some reports had taken brief notice of the fact that unlike most of his predecessors he has not been in the habit of going on ‘annual leave’, preferring to work round the year. That is a question that required a fuller debate. Most medical opinion urges a break from schedule of people who work without taking any break at least once a year. The stress from overwork can harm even a younger and otherwise fitter person.

The practice of regularly taking on annual vacation, away from the base station, is still not common among most Indians, whether they work or overwork. The privileged and wealthier sections in the society have no time for it and the lesser mortals cannot afford an annual holiday. The harm that flows from the stressful and sedentary lifestyle of today is known to both, as is the benefit of relaxation at appropriate intervals. But nobody has questioned why Manmohan Singh has been shy of going out on holidays.

It was also an apt time to question some of the 'traditions' in the allocation of prime minister’s work. It is said to be a 'tradition' or 'convention' that the prime minister must head several ministries—space; atomic energy; personnel, pension and public grievances; administrative reforms; he must be the chairman of the planning commission; all important policy and defence related matters must come to him; the PM must clear the list of decorations and civilian awards; he/she must also approve the appointment of heads of Indian missions as also the names of heads of missions forwarded by foreign countries; the PM takes decision on cabinet secretariat issues and has to go through the files for appointments in various constitutional and important federal bodies like tribunals, UPSC, election commission and senior judicial appointments.

The list is not complete. PM also has to decide on special packages that are announced for the states from time to time, prepare to answer questions in parliament and, finally, fulfil many protocol demands for receiving visitors and travel abroad in pursuance of high diplomacy.

It is not clear why some of these tasks cannot be given to some other minister/ministers. Is it something more than mere ‘tradition’ or ‘convention’ that forces the prime minister to take on so many responsibilities? There were reports galore about how the long absence from office of Manmohan Singh would affect the functioning of the government and lead to troubles in the ruling party because of a possible ugly fight among likely contenders for the prime minister’s job, and, horror of horrors, the possibility of an immobilised nuclear command structure. Who will give the green signal in case the nuclear arsenal had to be sued?

That did not look like a good question for two reasons. One, despite all the provocations from across the border neither India is in imminent danger of facing a nuclear attack nor is it likely to launch one in retaliation. It is also inconceivable that should there really be a need to press the nuclear button it will be held up because the prime minister is convalescing at home or hospital.

It looked as though the nation had not only become obsessed with heart disease of the prime minister but was also in danger of rushing into serious crises of political and strategic nature when it did not really appear to be the case.

There is no doubt that heart disease is a serious ailment. Indians are said to be more prone to it than people in the West where the daily diet is generally considered to be healthier than India’s and where the average person is more health conscious than is true of India. And it need hardly be emphasised that in today’s context of heightened tension with a nuclear-armed neighbour the country’s defensive and offensive mechanism have to be fully in proper shape.

It may well be that all the extra space devoted by the media to the prime minister’s ailment and speculating on the likely fallout on political and security matters was designed, one to persuade Indians to take better care of their health and their dietary habits, and two to warn the government against being lax at a time of tension in the region.

While it is for the medical fraternity to pronounce on matters relating to the prime minister’s response to bypass surgery, even a brief examination of other matters, relating to politics and security, would suggest that the scenario has not been as alarming as most reporters made out.

The issue of who will discharge the duties of the prime minister while Manmohan Singh is recuperating seems to have been settled with the charge being given to the external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee. Those who have been touting for Rahul Gandhi as the Congress party’s candidate for prime minister realise well that this will be the wrong time to press his case. Perhaps, they also realise that Rahul Gandhi’s period of apprenticeship in politics is still not complete, or else his mother, the supreme boss of the Congress party, would not have been categorical in supporting another term for Manmohan Singh, should the party manage to return to power.

It is a settled issue that the Congress would project Manmohan Singh as its candidate for the prime minister after the Lok Sabha polls this summer. The issue of the Congress looking for another candidate will arise only if for some reason Manmohan Singh does not fully recover by this summer. Going by what his doctors say, he is more likely to be up and about in less than two months, well ahead of the summer polls.

A more relevant point is Manmohan Singh has never been an important 'star' at vote-gathering rallies of the Congress. That role has been primarily assigned to the Congress president, maybe her son and regional satraps. Come to think of it even Pranab Mukherjee, the de facto or acting prime minister during the absence of Manmohan Singh is also not considered to be a vote-catching material. It will matter little if Manmohan Singh participates actively or occasionally in party campaigns before the polls. He should be allowed to recover without any worry on his mind about the affairs of the state with the assurance that the ship of the nation would continue to roll on.

- Asian Tribune -

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