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Curses AIIMS, defends Emergency

Union Minister Vayalar Ravi curses the AIIMS and defends the Emergency of 1975: the first because the premier hospital messed up his wife’s surgery; the second because he was party to the decision to impose the Emergency.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2009 00:07 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Union Minister Vayalar Ravi curses the All India Medical Institute of Sciences (AIIMS) and defends the Emergency of 1975: the first because the premier hospital messed up his wife’s surgery; the second because he was party to the decision to impose the Emergency.

“I cannot disown the Emerge-ncy. It was a correct decision ... the only way out,” Ravi told HT.

Eleven years later, in 1986, he stood outside the operation theatre in AIIMS. He had flown in from Chennai, then Madras, with his ailing wife, Mercy. Given that the doctors were rated highly, Ravi was confident that Mercy would recover. He had not bargained for a mess-up which initially cost her a kidney and later her life.

Theirs was an inter-caste marriage. Ravi kidnapped Mercy because her family was against her marrying a non-Catholic. Ravi was a Hindu, a backward and penniless. With help from friends like A.K. Antony, currently India’s defence minister, he hatched a plot to kidnap her. By the time Mercy’s family sent goons to beat him up, they had been pronounced man and wife.

Mercy’s illness made him a believer. When she went to hospital the first time, he was Kerala’s home minister. Cops escorted him and the state machinery was at his command. But nothing helped: “She was suffering. I felt powerless ... a mere molecule. For the first time I prayed.”

Politically, Ravi has been a fighter: actually a rebel of sorts. He pioneered the students’ movement in the state. In 1957 he founded the Kerala Students Union, which rejuvenated the Congress: “It was the rise of youth power in Kerala.

Ravi fought resistance from the old guard and helped create a platform for young leaders. His contribution cannot be
undermined. He was among the few who fought an election to the Congress Working Committee in 1972. He did not opt for a nomination,” said Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s former chief minister.

He, however, paid for opposing K. Karunakaran, then the state’s chief minister. When he was dropped as home minister, he challenged Karunakaran. The following year, in 1987, the Congress lost power in Kerala. Ravi and Antony also drifted apart because both were in the running for president of the state unit: “Ravi made it and this strained their relationship,” says P.C. Chacko, Congress MP. “In later years he was sidelined because he often said what people did not want to hear”.

From a family where his father was served a warrant for wearing a Gandhi cap in 1946, Vayalar Ravi spent the better part of his childhood sleeping in the local Congress office. It was former defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon who got him a job with a newspaper: “How much,” Menon had then asked Ravi, “do you want to make?” A hundred rupees a month is what had aimed for. He managed to double the amount.

Hotels and holidays were prohibitive even after he was elected MP. The first time his daughter was sent to London on a holiday was when Ravi had accumulated flying miles on official trips.