I had a horrible feeling this would happen. And now that the Prime Minister’s security and the mindless and inconsiderate cordon they throw around any hospital he visits has allegedly caused a patient’s death, I’m convinced it was a tragedy that’s long been in the making. In fact, four years ago, I almost warned about this.
In this very column on November 13, 2005, I described how a visit by the president to the army’s R&R Hospital paralysed the place. “Around 6.00 in the evening which, incidentally, is visiting hour, President Kalam arrived to see his predecessor. Regardless of the inconvenience it would cause, the entrance was shut, all the cars in the parking lot moved, several corridors sealed off and many relatives who had come to see their loved ones prevented from doing so. Burly security staff, wearing prominent earpieces, were deaf to the pleas of anxious relatives.”
Within days, the inconvenience Kalam inflicted on the R&R was repeated by the vice-president, the PM, the speaker and an assortment of ministers. When I re-read the piece I wrote, the following sentence seemed to presage what happened last Tuesday: “A lady, visibly under treatment for cancer, was stopped by the PM’s security. They refused to let her pass. When, ultimately, they did they prevented her husband accompanying her. Elsewhere nursing staff were denied use of the elevators. Why? Because a red carpet had to be laid to grace the PM’s feet!”
Three things are now as clear as mud. First, what happened on Tuesday was neither accidental overzealousness nor unique. Each time the PM or the president visits a hospital, his or her security throws the place out of kilter. Second, the security personnel don’t care about the havoc they create. In fact, I doubt very much if the president or the PM give it much thought. Because they can’t be unaware of the inconvenience their visits cause, if it continues that suggests they’ve done nothing about it and I would also presume they don’t care. Third, this is likely to happen again and again.
However, what has truly startled me is the PM’s response. His office issued an initial statement to say it “is saddened at the death of a patient”. Saddened? Is that sufficient? Saddened? Does that word acknowledge the pain and misery of the dead man’s family? Saddened? Is that how the PM would feel if the victim was one of his relatives?
The next day the PM wrote a letter perfunctorily expressing his “deep regret”. But why did he not personally call on the grieving family? That would have been the proper thing to do. Or do shop-attendants from Ambala not merit prime ministerial visits?
All this apart, I’d like to offer a few specific suggestions to the president, the PM and the other bigwigs who drop in at hospitals. First, tell your security that in hospitals there are no VIPs, unless you mean the seriously ill. Second, every patient takes precedence over you. Third, relatives of patients are more important than you are. They must not be stopped so that you can enter and exit without hindrance. Finally, it would be best if you didn’t turn up at all. The inconvenience you cause far outweighs any good you may do.
If despite this you insist on coming, then please do so as an ordinary person: on your own, without security and without stopping or inconveniencing anyone else.
The views expressed by the author are personal