BANGALORE : Apart from the coronavirus-infected curfew, the health of Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has been the most hotly contested topic in the Karnataka media in recent weeks. He was said to be suffering from ligament or knee joint pain. More than that, there was talk of him being dislodged in order to make room for a new face.
The media stories have been denied by both the chief minister and the BJP. There is no official health bulletin to either refute media stories or back either the chief minister’s or his party’s statements. That’s reasonable, given that Bommai has never stated that he has a leg ailment or any other health concern. He’s been claiming that he has enough energy to work every day of the year.
The truth, on the other hand, could be quite different. He appears to be limping slightly in the videos of him engaging in public programmes. Not just Bommai, but no politician in a position of power ever discusses a doctor’s visit or their health.
In the case of Bommai, what was startling was the telecast of a video in which he was seen getting a leg massage. The video was of poor quality. However, some of the photos used by the media were good. The footage of the chief minister receiving a massage while sitting on a reclining chair has gone viral. The therapy was repeatedly shown on Kannada tv channels, and the dailies covered it with images.
The chief minister was in Belagavi for the legislative session. Lokesh Tekal, who is supposed to be a traditional medical practitioner (naati vaidya), met Bommai at the time and provided him an oil massage as well as some medications. Tekal himself provided this information to the media. Minister Laxman Savadi was quoted in the media as stating that he was the one who took Tekal to the chief minister because he was suffering from leg pain. According to Tekal, the chief minister received treatment for a week and would need to continue for a month to be pain-free. During his treatment, he’d have to stick to a strict diet. All of these are from Tekal, and the chief minister has yet to say anything.
A state’s de facto executive authority is the chief minister. He is a governor’s appointee. He is a government’s public face. He serves as a link between the government and the general public. Should a “medical practitioner” like Tekal, whose credentials are being challenged in court, be disclosing the chief minister’s health issues? He was arrested by the authorities in 2019 because he was not qualified to handle patients, according to reports. Of course, Savadi and many others have praised him. But the question is w\ ho should be making the chief minister’s health public? It should be an authorised person by the chief minister’s office, the government, or the chief minister himself.
Sources in the CMO said that neither Bommai nor his staff were aware of the video. According to one version, the masseur was the one who recorded it and made it viral. If this is the case, it is being done from a business standpoint. The chief minister’s treatment didn’t last more than a day, or at most a couple of days, according to sources. The video refutes the chief minister’s and his party’s claims regarding leg pain. Isn’t it time for the CMO to clarify this? Wasn’t videotaping a violation of protocol?
No one may compel politicians to reveal their health state unless it has a negative impact on the administration or puts public safety at danger. They should, however, consider it from an ethical standpoint. Forget India; nowhere in the world is any top political leader forced to come out with a medical disclosure. Medical bulletins are only released when a politician becomes critically ill, has surgery, or is involved in an accident. Probably, except for Mahatma Gandhi, none gloated about their health. As he angled for no position, it is likely that he was candid.
Former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy became emotional during a public assembly in Malavalli in 2018, saying he might not live long. No one knew what he had gone through on his tour to Israel, he had said. However, he stated that he would not reveal the problem. However, he later revealed that he had suffered a second heart attack. He had undergone open-heart surgery and a valve replacement in 2007 and the head of the hospital had stated about the medical condition of Kumaraswamy before the surgery. In 2017, again, he underwent heart surgery, and he stated this on the eve of the surgery. But at both times, he was the former chief minister.
It was presumed that Congress chief Rajiv Gandhi, in 1990, unceremoniously removed Veerendra Patil as chief minister when he had suffered a paralysis attack. But no official statement about his health was issued.
Recently, US President Joe Biden was sedated for a colonoscopy.It was part of his annual health check. Before that, he transferred his power to his deputy, Kamala Harris. She was president for one hour and twenty-five minutes. The White House press office stated in this regard, specifying that the temporary transfer of power was sent at 10.10 am. The President resumed his duties at 11.35 am. In India, we have not seen such protocol being followed by men in power.
The scrutiny of elected officials is constant. Rather than allowing rumours and speculations to flourish, or for “health bulletins” to be published by an unknown and unreliable individual, it is preferable if the chief minister himself is responsible for providing an explanation to the public. If he wants to maintain secrecy, then it should be absolute.
-ASHA KRISHNASWANY, Senior journalist, Bangalore.