An unfit person is a threat to himself. An unfit minister is a threat to his party and to the country because he holds a constitutional position in public life.
The death of Gopinath Munde, briefly union minister for rural development, might not be in vain if it helps set health norms for the elected representatives of India. Munde’s death was triggered by an accident and hastened by poor health.
Accidents we cannot control. Health we can.
Crores of rupees are spent on the effort to be a minister. In an end-June 2013 event in Mumbai, Munde said his election expenses had spiraled from Rs 9000 in 1980 [for an MLA election] to Rs 8 crore in 2009 [for an MP election]. Listening to him on the dais were Narendra Modi and Nitin Gadkari, both in the BJP government now.
MPs are lawmakers, which is an exalted position. Some of them become ministers, prime ministers even. No other office of such stature and responsibility is passed on to people without eliciting fitness.
It is basic precaution to check if a person is fit enough to take on a crucial public position. In India, though, there is no fitness check on MPs, MLAs, corporators and Zilla Parishad members.
They might have a variety of health issues but they can simply get to work without a question asked. When something unanticipated happens, like Munde’s death, there is shock and grief. This soon passes and business resumes. The denial stays.
Union health minister Harsh Vardhan is a doctor by profession. He is an RSS and BJP member by politics. He is normally appropriate in what he says and does. Yet, even his response to Munde’s death focused on safety belts. Not on poor personal health.
If we have to learn anything from Munde’s death, it is that fitness and good health are a mandatory requirement of public life. The higher the office, the fitter a person has to be.
To make it work, medical tests need to be mandatory and random. There has to be one after the election results are out and before an MP is sworn-in. This way they don’t take office unless they pass a fitness test.
Such medical checks may be repeated through tenure. They may be random, so that there is no predictability. People can fake the results when they know the schedule of medical tests.
They may be mandatory so that it shuts escape routes.
Whole body checkup
This is an established procedure that major hospitals conduct in big towns and cities. There are between 60 and 75 tests, usually done over a day or two.
There is general doctor counseling, eye examination, screening of neck vessels, advanced cardiac tests, spine X-ray, hearing capability check, lung function tests, abdominal check, kidney and liver function tests, lipid profile, thyroid check, screening for hepatitis B and vitamin check.
They also check cancer markers, heart status indicators, total body fat percentage, fracture risk indicator, infection markers and diabetes markers.
HIV-AIDS test is not part of this but it could easily be so for elected representatives.
All it needs is the Lok Sabha secretariat to ink a contract with a big hospital or healthcare provider. The location and schedule of tests become a matter of routine.
Costs may be an issue. It might need the MPs and MLAs, their parties and the exchequer [which means us, the public] to pool in. An agreement on this is entirely possible.
A whole body checkup is only half the thing. The other, probably more important, half is of psychological tests. It would help understand an MP and his or her behaviour.
It is a process that helps understand mental health issues, if any, personality, IQ, and strengths and weaknesses. This is a critical component that could elevate the overall functioning of our parliament.
Broadly there are four types of tests: a clinical interview and three separate assessments of IQ, personality and behaviour.
A clinical interview can last up to two hours which helps gather important background and family data. They invariably go over personal life stories. The process is now so matter-of-fact that MPs could simply answer queries on laptops, iPads or desktops instead of verbally answering a psychologist.
IQ assessment involves intelligence tests. They look at levels of verbal comprehension, perception and reasoning, working memory and processing speed. It can take up to two hours.
Personality assessment measures dysfunction and personality traits. It gets a sense of things like warmth, emotional stability, dominance, social boldness, sensitivity, openness to change, self-reliance, perfectionism and tension.
It is an invaluable understanding of a person, both for an MP and his assessor.
Behaviour assessment involves observing a person through the entire process of psychological assessment. It gets a sense of components and triggers of behaviour in different settings. It can take a couple of days or more.
Drugs and alcohol test
This is an important test in an age when addiction to drugs and alcohol is spiking in India.
Health minister Harsh Vardhan has spoken of a campaign on this, the Aam Aadmi Party – particularly its Punjab unit – says it would reduce sale of substances, and the Congress says it would conduct a nationwide survey on drug abuse.
Ministers and MLAs in Punjab are routinely accused of engaging with trade in drugs. Finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley’s campaign manager in Amritsar was Bikram Singh Majithia – Punjab revenue minister whose name crops up often in drug scandals.
India has reached a stage where MPs and MLAs need to be tested for drugs and alcohol. I have seen union ministers stumble into parliament under the influence and behave oddly. It is far too important to ignore.
Making elected representatives accountable could send a powerful message all the way down on addiction.
These tests are to check for presence of drugs and alcohol in the system. They could test urine, blood, hair, breath, saliva or sweat. Some tests show results in a couple of minutes.
These three types of fitness tests would instantly improve the mental makeup of MPs and MLAs. Such procedures instill greater awareness in people. MPs might even work more when put through these tests.
In the past, TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu put his MLAs through yoga routine for a while because they were embarrassingly out of shape. It didn’t last.
Munde died when he could easily have survived a worse accident with better health. It is too big a lesson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to miss.
More from the author:
10 things that can get the Aam Aadmi Party back on track
The scary BJP work ethic Modi should change
Modi beware: All Indian politicians end in failure
10 things I support Narendra Modi on
The descent of Arvind Kejriwal
What the new Lok Sabha would look like with proportional representation
Sonia’s time is up, not Rahul’s
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org