Is Vajpayee Really Ill?
The Indian Prime Minister's apparent health problems are causing alarm
-- not to mention speculation
By MEENAKSHI GANGULY
September 11, 2000
Web posted at 4:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:00 a.m. EDT
ago, when a group of TIME editors met with former Indian Prime Minister
Deve Gowda, they had a rather unusual experience: The leader of the world's
largest democracy seemed to fall asleep mid-conversation. When the final
question during the halting interview was asked -- "Prime Minister, what
is your government's policy regarding liberalization?" -- for once, the
pause was not particularly long. But the answer, when it came, surprised
all. The Prime Minister burped.
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The current Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, is not lacking either
in social skills or in erudition. He is a great orator, he's witty and
is renowned for taking firm decisions. Indians, however, are a little
unsettled about him these days. First, Prime Minister Vajpayee noticeably
stumbled after delivering the annual Independence Day speech in August
and had to be helped by his bodyguards. Then he left early from his party
gathering because his doctors had advised him to rest.
But it was his cutting short his visit to the United States -- just as
everyone had started celebrating the thaw in Indo-American ties -- that
got tongues wagging. Whispers began: prostrate cancer, a collapsing kidney,
something unidentified but fatal... No one was buying the statements from
the Prime Minister's office that Vajapyee suffered from osteoarthritis
in the knees, which had led to the Independence Day lurching.
Before leaving for the U.S., the Prime Minister talked to leading editors
and assured them of his good health. But the grumbling has not stopped.
He has cut short his trip by a couple of days, snipping off a visit to
Silicon Valley to meet with Indian millionaire geeks, much to the disappointment
of all those who believe that information technology is the ticket to
zero fiscal deficit and high growth.
There is an even greater cause of concern. The 'who-is-on-my-side' game
that India and Pakistan play at every international meet is also under
threat. The Indian Prime Minister may have been honored with an opportunity
to address Congress, but Pakistan's robust ruler, General Pervez Musharraf,
will meet many more heads of nations and without a doubt will push the
Prime Minister Vajpayee told the weekly India Today that his visit was
not going to "lead to a dramatic breakthrough" to Indo-US ties, but would
"give a new momentum." The magazine assured its readers that he was up
to the job. Arrows leading from his body stated his heart was "in excellent
condition," his kidney (he has only one) has "managed fine" and that his
brain "remains sharp and alert." The Prime Minister has a pulse rate of
72 and near-perfect blood pressure at 80/130.
This Prime Minister, it seems, is doing great.
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