Playing politics with Begum Zia’s health

Mizanur Rahman Khan | Update:

Khaleda Zia. File PhotoThe squabbling which started during the month of Ramadan over the medical treatment of Begum Khaleda Zia continues and is likely to roll on up till Eid-ul Azha.

Can there be a judicial solution to the dilemma?

Deviating from its earlier stance regarding the medical treatment of Khaleda Zia, the government has now acquiesced that it would not be possible to carry out her treatment at either the prison hospital or at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU). She can be treated at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH). But BNP has taken a firm stand for their party chairperson to be treated at United Hospital.

While the issue is basically about medical treatment, it has not unsurprisingly turned into the inevitable tug-of-war between the two sides. In fact, it has been learnt, both the opposition and the government side have lost their confidence in the concerned medical board.

BNP secretary general has not quoted any medical board in explaining why Khaleda Zia’s treatment has to be at United Hospital, not BSMMU. Before that, the government had formed a medical board comprising four professors of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). The IG (Prisons), not being a medical professional, did not reveal the views of the medical board. It was a professor, a spokesperson of the board, who briefed the media. But then things took a more serious turn when on the fourth day of Ramadan, according to BNP, Begum Zia fainted and fell down.

Since then both sides have been continuously issuing statements and counter-statements about Khaleda Zia’s health condition, without reference of any physician. The government cannot simply declare its decision and end there. It must inform the public, in the interests of transparency and accountability, who, where and how Khaleda Zia’s medical checkup was carried out and whether there is a written report.

On the other hand, there are several qualified physicians of the BNP ilk. Why have they not issued any written statement? Do we simply take it for granted that the statement of Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is based on the report of the medical experts?

When elaborating the health condition of a former prime minister, it is necessary for the government to separate itself from Awami League. The government physicians will issue clear cut statements about her health. The Awami League spokesperson can issue statements, making Khaleda Zia’s health into an issue. Yet the professional spokesperson of the government board has not made any statement regarding Khaleda Zia ‘health or health politics’. Awami League’s general secretary and others have continuously being accusing BNP of politicising this issue.

On Sunday, Mirza Fakhrul said, “We have been talking about hospitals because this is not just about medical tests, but about proper treatment. Khaleda Zia’s ailments need continuous observation and then the physicians will take due measures.” The bottom line of his contention is that it is only possible for Khaleda Zia to receive proper treatment at this hospital, nowhere else.

Going back, initially General Ershad had declared his party would not take part in the 5 January 2014 election. And then, out of the blue, he was dramatically escorted to CMH by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

In a recent interview with Prothom Alo, health minister Mohammed Nasim expressed his views that Begum Khaleda Zia would not stay long in prison and would also take part in the election. Mirza Fakhrul, on the other hand, was skeptical about the medical board and about her being granted bail on health grounds. People cannot be fully convinced when he says she suffered a ‘mild stroke’. Then again, the IG (Prisons) said she didn’t fall unconscious, just lost balance. The people were not fully convinced by him either. The IG (Prisons) said that they could not afford United Hospital, but BNP said they would bear the expenses. This complicated things more. Perhaps the court can determine how an ‘appropriate medical board’ is formed.

The rather colourful Indian politician Lalu Prasad Jadav once had humorously remarked, “Rajniti-mein bahut politics hein!” (There is a lot of politics in politics!) Now we can misquote him: “Khaleda-ki chikitsa mein bahut politics hein!” In other words, there is a lot of politics in Khaleda’s treatment!

* Mizanur Rahman is a senior journalist. This piece has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.

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