Business Standard

Right to information

Ms Sonia Gandhi's health is a matter of public concern

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This newspaper wishes the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance and president of the good health, long life and a speedy recovery from her illness and surgery. However, we reject the view of the spokesperson of the Congress Party that information pertaining to Ms Gandhi’s health is a “personal matter” and that the people of India should “respect” her family’s request for “privacy”. Sorry, in a democracy the people have a right to know detailed information about the health of their leaders. This is neither a “private matter” nor can the family of the concerned public personality have the last word on the matter. Moreover, Ms Gandhi occupies an official position as chairperson of the UPA. The public not only have a right to know all the facts about Ms Gandhi’s health and but also the doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis. Indeed, the tax payer also has a right to know if and how much public money has been spent and will be spent both for the treatment and for the security and related expenditure.

As someone who is rightly proud of being one of the principal authors of the UPA government’s initiative to legislate the Right to Information Act, Ms Gandhi should feel proud to share this information with the people of India. The people’s right to information is no less important than a leader’s right to privacy. Indeed, in this context the larger point should also be made that the people have a right to know how much public money is being spent on the health care needs of all public personalities, including former presidents, prime ministers and ministers. Both Mr and Mr have been given government-funded health care support. Other public personalities have routinely travelled abroad at public expense for their medical treatment and check-ups.

In the extant case, the manner in which the Congress Party and the party’s First Family have approached both the issues of Ms Gandhi’s health and  arrangements during her absence leaves a lot to be desired. It is a sad day for this grand old party of the national movement that its affairs are to be managed by a cabal of ‘backroom boys’, in the absence of the party’s president, rather than a ‘working president’ who commands the respect of the party as a whole and across the country. It is also intriguing and inexplicable that while the entire party chants the mantra that its general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, is ready to be Prime Minister of India, the party’s own president is not willing to appoint him as the party’s working president in her absence, but makes him a member of a four-member team. If Mr Gandhi is not ready to manage the affairs of the Congress Party on his own, how can he be expected to manage the affairs of the nation as PM?

The manner in which the Congress party’s First Family has handled the issue of Ms Gandhi’s health and surgery, and the issue of party leadership and management in her absence, raises serious questions about the functioning and future of the Congress Party. All this will needlessly divert attention from the subject of immediate concern, namely, Ms Gandhi’s health. The entire nation would pray for her speedy recovery, but cannot be expected to shy away from raising these awkward questions.

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