High BP, low weight: How Bose, Pak hit Bapu's health

Health records
Last Updated 25 March 2019, 20:06 IST

His power struggle with Subhash Chandra Bose on leading the Congress movement for Independence and ideas to create a separate state of Pakistan may be among the factors that pushed up Mahatma Gandhi’s blood pressure.

The Father of the Nation’s health records — released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday in a special issue of its journal — demonstrate how he suffered from high blood pressure through the better part of his life. He was also grossly undernourished, with a body weight of 46 kg and a body mass index (BMI) of 17.1.

In March and April, 1939, when then Congress party was virtually split into two camps, led by Gandhi and Bose, the Mahatma’s blood pressure varied from 170/110 (March 4) and 180/110 (March 5) to 160/100 (April 30).

On April 29, in a letter to Bose, he wrote, “...knowing how you and most of the members differ on fundamentals... you are free to choose your own Committee.” On the same day, the Bengal leader resigned from the post of Congress president after reading out Gandhi’s letter at the AICC meeting held in Tirupati.

A year later, doctors looking after Gandhi’s health recorded a blood pressure of 220/110 on February 19, 1940.

While the ICMR document doesn’t provide any insight, it is to be noted that such high blood pressure was recorded a month before the Lahore session of the All India Muslim League where the then Bengal Prime Minister A K Fazlul Huq proposed a ‘Pakistan Resolution’ that was duly passed, putting the demand for a separate homeland for Indian Muslims openly for the first time in black and white.

“As per the health file of Gandhiji (1924-47), his blood pressure readings were as high as 194/130 and 220/110 (on Oct 26, 1937, and February 19, 1940). In between as well, his blood pressure readings were higher than normal and touched 170/110 and 180/105,” says the ICMR journal that was published to commemorate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.

“He depended on sarpgandha (an Ayurvedic medicine and a source of BP-lowering drug reserpine) to control his blood pressure. Also, he suffered from malaria thrice and was operated for piles and appendicitis at the Sassoon General Hospital, Pune,” ICMR director general Balram Bhargava told DH.

Bapu himself wrote about his sarpagandha treatment to his personal physician Sushila Nayyar.

He covered 79,000 km

“Despite having such high BP and poor BMI, the apostle of peace was able to continue with his workload, possibly because of his daily routine of walking 18 km. During his campaign from 1913 to 1948, he walked around 79,000 km, which is equivalent to walking around the earth twice,” Bhargava said.

Unlike in the West, there’s no tradition of making the medical records of leaders public in India. But some of the medical records do make for interesting reading.

“For instance, Dwight D Eisenhower (the American army general who served as the 34th president of the United States) had a blood pressure of 340. It is often said that World War II may not have taken place had Eisenhower had normal blood pressure,” said Bhargava, a former professor of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

(Published 25 March 2019, 18:27 IST)

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