Secrecy continues to shroud Sonia’s illness

August 8th, 2011 - 7:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, Aug 8 (IANS) A veil of secrecy continues to shroud the illness of Congress president Sonia Gandhi with even Indian missions in the US not being kept in the loop about where she is being treated.

The Congress has been sparing in information about her sudden illness with party spokesperson Janardan Dwivedi last week telling the media to respect her privacy. He said on Friday that the operation performed on Gandhi was successful, but did not disclose the condition that led to her surgery in the US.

Gandhi is expected to be in New York for another three weeks for recovery, said sources.

According to some sources, Pulok Chatterjee, Gandhi’s former private secretary, took leave from the World Bank where he is currently serving as executive director to handle logistics related to her treatment. Chatterjee has informed the World Bank that he will be back in Washington Aug 10.

Chatterjee will be returning soon to take over as principal secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.

While the debate on whether powerful political figures should hide their medical condition rages, reliable sources said that the Gandhi family wanted to keep it a strictly private affair.

Neither the Indian embassy in Washington nor the Indian consulate in New York are disclosing in which hospital in the US Gandhi is being treated.

The unusual secrecy has fanned speculation that Gandhi might be suffering from cancer, with some unconfirmed reports saying she is recovering at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the world’s leading cancer treatment institute, in New York.

The hospital has refused to confirm she was admitted there, saying it respects patients’ privacy.

The hospital apparently does not have Gandhi’s name in the patient data system. Sources said she may be an an unlisted VIP patient.

A photograph in an Indian daily showed members of the Indian Congress Party in New York wishing Gandhi a speedy recovery outside Sloan Kettering.

Veteran journalist, envoy and MP Kuldip Nayar, who has served as former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s media adviser and chronicled India’s public life for decades, backs greater transparency about Gandhi’s illness.

“This should be transparent. This is how the relationship between the government and the people exists. Sonia Gandhi is the head of the ruling coalition and therefore represents the government,” Nayar said.

“The Congress party should share with the people the nature of her illness and how long she will be under treatment. As they have maintained secrecy, it has fed all kinds of speculation. And these rumours are alarming,” Nayar told IANS.

In the US and other democracies - quite in contrast to the opaqueness in authoritarian systems - health of political leaders and those in the public eye is under constant media scrutiny, but in India many politicians are known to hide their illness for a variety of reasons.

India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, had a stroke in Bhubaneswar but people were kept in the dark about his health right till his death in May 1964.

But since then there has been more transparency over the health of political leaders and the public kept informed about the knee surgeries of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee or the heart surgery and other medical problems of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from time to time.

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