In a first, a minister in India tweeted her health status that was shared within minutes by her 6.5 million followers, reaching far more people than a routine press release from government. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Wednesday morning that she was at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) because of kidney failure and was undergoing tests for transplantation, which was followed by a flurry of responses from thousands wishing her well and a handful sycophantically offering to donate a kidney.
I am in AIIMS because of kidney failure. Presently, I am on dialysis. I am undergoing tests for a Kidney transplant. Lord Krishna will bless— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) November 16, 2016
@SushmaSwaraj Mam If you wish. I am ready to donate my kidney for you. Nation needs your services— Nikhil Dadhich (@nikhildadhich) November 16, 2016
@SushmaSwaraj— Anjaneyulu (@Anjaneyulu3259) November 17, 2016
Madam I am dye hard fan of you since you supported Telangana. Please let me have an opportunity to donate my kidny
@SushmaSwaraj Although with responsibility of a 5 yr old son, I can offer my kidney to u for nation's good. I m O+. May Allah s.w.t help u!— Ali Imran Naqvi (@naqviimran) November 17, 2016
Swaraj, who has been a minister for information and broadcasting during NDA-1, once again established her unparalleled status as the “people’s minister”, who reaches out to people on social media and responds to every appeal and SOS she receives on Twitter. Her candid tweet on her health was got close to 11,000 retweets and more than 25,000 likes. So flabbergasted was the AIIMS media and protocol division by the minister’s unexpected tweet that it took three hours to announce that the hospital will not issue a press bulletin or electronic media brief because the minister had done a very good job of reaching out herself.
Unlike in the US where the White House physician releases the president’s state of health --president Obama is shockingly healthy, with occasional mild acid reflux and nicotine-gum indulgence – political leaders in India go to great lengths and distances to conceal their physical frailties. Most leaders seek treatment in private hospitals overseas where they are not recognized. Those who get treated in India issue gag orders and slap defamation cases against anyone who dares to discuss their health problems.
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalilthaa, who has been admitted to Chennai Apollo’s intensive care unit with “fever and dehydration” for close to two months, has had a team of 15 super-specialists, including from London, treating her. Her sparse health updates just said she was being treated for infection before her signed letter three days ago announced her rebirth because of people’s prayers. In these two months, Tamil Nadu police registered more than 50 cases against those who shared information on her health on social media and arrested eight. Little information was officially shared about Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s sudden fall during a roadshow in Varanasi in August, while the otherwise voluble Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal remained mysteriously silent about the surgery he underwent in Bengaluru to fix his signature cough. Swaraj’s won respect and hearts for choosing to openly discuss her health in the turgid and insecure world of south Asian politics. Other leaders must learn from her.