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Is Vajpayee Really Ill?
The Indian Prime Minister's apparent health problems are causing alarm -- not to mention speculation

September 11, 2000
Web posted at 4:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:00 a.m. EDT

'There Was Method to My Madness'
Why TIME Asia ventured into Cambodia's remote wilderness

Trial of the Century
Former Indonesian President Suharto skips court, too sick say lawyers

Reader Response: Tuff Turf
Asia Buzz readers give their views on Peter McKillop's question "Why in the world are there American troops in Japan"

Rave on the Great Wall
And the authorities in Beijing knew nothing about it

Analysis: Mori Hangs On, But Cracks Emerge
The Japan electoral vote was hardly clear cut: nobody really won, but nobody really lost

Inder K. Gujral: 'We Are Victims Of Terrorism'
Interview with former Indian Prime Minister Inder K. Gujral

And The Winner Is ...
Q&A with Wong Kar-wai, director of In the Mood for Love

Comment: Hardball
China once again throws the ball back in Taiwan's court
'A Moment of Dignity and Hope': ROC President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration speech

Years 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.

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 Kashmir issue.

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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