2018-07-17 11:08:28 UTC
Veil of Secrecy on Health Remains
The response of the state -- or
the lack thereof -- on the
health of its ministers begs
the question: when the
taxpayers are picking up the
tab for treatment, shouldn't
they have a right to know?
After Parrikar, Three Goa Ministers Take Seriously Ill, but
Veil of Secrecy on Health Remains
Panaji: Goa's PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar underwent a
surgery at a Mumbai hospital on July 9, joining an
unprecedented number of MLAs in the state -- six, including
chief minister Manohar Parrikar -- who've been hit by major
health issues. The PWD minister was recovering well, a
government statement said, requesting all "not to speculate
about his health", a demand that provoked even more questions
in the state where a veil of secrecy surrounds the health of
half a dozen legislators, a majority of them from the ruling BJP.
Dhavalikar, who handles the weighty transport
portfolio as well, is the fourth cabinet minister
from Goa to have been hospitalised in recent weeks.
Another BJP minister, Pandurang Madkaikar, is still
being treated at the Kokilaben Hospital in Mumbai
after he suffered a brain stroke in early June. But
the government has said little about his condition
or his ability to get back to work anytime in the
future. Chief minister Parrikar, who returned to
Goa in mid-June after three months at the Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York where he
was being treated for cancer of the pancreas --
something not officially confirmed or spoken of
even now -- currently juggles 26 portfolios (with
some more hefty ones lately acquired from his
ailing cabinet colleagues), raising questions about
his capacity to cope.
The Goa chief minister's absence of 100 days, his decision to
appoint the constitutionally questionable three-member
cabinet advisory committee rather than an acting chief
minister, and governor Mridula Sinha's tacit silence in the
matter -- despite protests from the opposition Congress --
left the Goa administration rudderless and adrift for a good
part of the year.
Speaking at a BJP mahila morcha meet here a few days ago,
Parrikar said willpower, medical treatment and people's
prayers had helped him get back on his feet. "The tremendous
goodwill of the people of the state and the impact of prayers
has helped me recover and come back in public life," he said.
He also told a group of local editors he might consider a
cabinet reshuffle -- given the number of ailing ministers --
after the state assembly session that ends early August. The
BJP leader is scheduled to return to the US for follow-up
treatment soon after.
The Goa chief minister may have enjoyed the
goodwill and sympathy of the public and the media
here which has consistently referred to the cancer
as a "pancreatic ailment", but within his cabinet,
subtle moves had been launched to replace him if
the need arose, with the occasional story of a
likely successor being floated in the local press
to test his acceptability quotient.
At a press conference a fortnight before Parrikar's return,
Dhavalikar (of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, which is
part of the coalition government) threw a curveball at the
media saying he was "mentally prepared to take responsibility
of chief ministership if the people so desired". The MGP
MLA's cosy relationship with Union minister Nitin Gadkari and
the bonhomie they share over the nearly Rs 20,000 crore
highways, bridges and other major infrastructure projects
currently unleashed in Goa is well known, and the local media
had a field day speculating over the possible merger of the
MGP with the BJP to elevate Dhavalikar to the top post. The
BJP's dependence on Parrikar and his overbearing leadership
have left the party bereft of a second line of command in Goa.
Though a much frailer Parrikar helms the affairs of
the state, a threat to his position has been blown
away for now ironically by the poor health of two
possible contenders: Dhavalikar and urban
development minister Francis D’Souza, who also
spent several weeks abroad for a kidney transplant
surgery. Far more upfront about his health than
other politicians are prepared to be, D’Souza sees
life in a position of power as "a rat's race" to
defend one's turf -- something the voting public
would see as a small price to pay for a life of
enormous wealth and privilege. Politicians tend to
be secretive about the nature of their illness
"because if a minister falls sick, there are four
waiting to take his place", he says.
D’Souza claims he spent his own money on treatment abroad.
But another minister who wished not to be identified said he
believed legislators are entitled to unlimited medical
expenses, even abroad. "Why are you asking such insensitive
questions?" he wanted to know. When the state is picking up
the tab, doesn't the public have a right to know if a
minister is fit enough to handle the job? Activist lawyer
Aires Rodrigues believes it has. An RTI he filed asking for
the government to make known the spending on the chief
minister's treatment has so far gone unanswered.
Devika Sequeira is a freelance journalist based in Goa.