An Emergency with top leaders in B'luru

I remember the easy banter of all the arrested leaders, especially about their so-called health issues.

When the country is remembering the dark days of the Emergency on its 40th anniversary, I remember some incidents too, albeit from a different perspective.

In 1975, I was an assistant professor of pathology at the  Victoria Hospital in Bangalore. Dr M Krishna Bhargava was the medical superintendent and my boss as the head of the department of pathology. It is a well known and documented fact that many of the important leaders of the opposition were incarcerated at the City’s Central Jail. If they had any medical problems, they would be brought to our hospital.

Once they arrived at the hospital, they would be directly brought to the pathology department, and I had been instructed to seat them in Dr Bhargava’s room, since he would be, in any case busy in the hospital. (I am sure this arrangement had been arrived at informally between the then chief minister D Devaraj Urs and Dr Bhargava, both of whom hailed from the same place and knew each other from their childhood days).

This is where I came into the picture. I had been put in charge of getting all the tests done, experts brought to examine them and see that whatever had to be done would be done seamlessly.

The VIP patients included A B Vajapayee, L K Advani, Madhu Dandavate, Ramakrishna Hegde, H D Deve Gowda etc.  There were some others occasionally, but these leaders were quite regularly brought for the check-up. The obvious difference I found from reading the papers which described harsh treatments meted out to many arrested opposition leaders and workers elsewhere was that here, the police presence was minimum.

I would be requested to see that all and sundry did not get to see them or meet them. A couple of desultory policemen would be sitting and chatting in our corridors. Not really keeping an eagle eye on us.

I remember the easy banter involved in by all these leaders, especially about their so called health issues. Ramakrishna Hegde and Deve Gowda who would address each other in the singular, and very often Hegde and some others were convinced if only Gowda would have a drink or two, all his problems would disappear.

This kind of gentle ribbing would be going on constantly, and no one would have suspected that they were all under arrest! At least in the hospital, the atmosphere would not be very serious.

On one occasion, Hegde had to come alone and spent a couple of hours for a test. This time, I was requested by a police officer if I could make him sit in my room and that nobody else came to my room.

Hegde told me that these tests which had been ordered had already been done in London, and there was nothing wrong, and he could not understand why he was being subjected to it all over again. However, this time also, there was nothing wrong.

Vajpayee’s appendicitis

But the indelible memory is of him developing appendicitis. Needless to say, he was operated upon by the best of the surgeons, and he was admitted in one of our special wards for post-operative recovery. I remember going to see him every day because I had been instructed by my boss. I used to see Vajpayee accompanied by the surgeons who had operated on him.

Again, thanks to Devaraj Urs, I am sure, a lone policeman would be seen lounging about outside the ward, and I think the then Jan Sangh leader’s sister had been permitted to be his attendant. I remember he used to always have a pile of books next to him and was most soft spoken and a thorough gentleman.

The problem arose when he developed temperature a couple of days later. The surgeons and physicians thought that it was a normal post-operative reaction, but the temperature would not just go away.

And so it happened that one day when I went to see him in the morning, he said to me, “Doctor, all of you have been extremely nice to me, and I have absolutely no complaints. But I have to leave for Delhi today.”

Vajpayee, accompanied by one of our surgeons, was on a special flight to Delhi by 2 pm that day (It is another matter that after he was airborne, we found the cause of the fever and immediately informed AIIMS so that he would not be subjected to more tests).

I had occasion to meet Advani in Coorg(Kodagu) a few years ago when he was on a holiday with his family and I introduced myself to him. He nostalgically remembered those days and especially asked about Dr Hegde, a dentist who had treated him. He wanted to know if he was still practising, where he was, how he was etc.

I still feel that Devaraj Urs did not implement the Emergency with fanatic dedication.

(The writer is former Director, Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences and former Registrar, Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences)

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