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Fight club

Venugopal did not hit it off with Ramadoss from the start. The minister, in turn, criticised the functioning of AIIMS, setting off the tone for the friction that would ultimately lead to the infamous November sacking. reports HT Correspondent.

india Updated: May 08, 2008 23:39 IST
HT Correspondent

Venugopal did not hit it off with Ramadoss from the start. The minister, in turn, criticised the functioning of AIIMS, setting off the tone for the friction that would ultimately lead to the infamous November sacking.

Dr P Venugopal, 66

Claim to fame

AIIMS director Dr P Venugopal, who turns 67 on July 6, 2008, is best known as the supersurgeon who did India’s first heart transplant on August 3, 1994. He went on to do 26 transplants, prompting then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to declare August 3 as Heart Transplantation Day in 2003.

Doc turned director turns unpopular

Strangely, the popular head of the cardio-thoracic and neuro sciences centre at AIIMS became rude and autocratic when he took over as the director of AIIMS on July 3, 2003. Most say Venugopal just was temperamentally not suited as an administrator: his ICU often doubled as the director’s office, as he spent more time there in his surgical gown than in the director’s office in the academic block.

Whatever the cause, the man of few words soon retreated into an ivory tower, where even senior doctors had to wait for days before getting a chance to talk to him. His behaviour gained him several foes, with many senior doctors resigning from AIIMS in disgust and many more demanding his removal.

Fan club: Champion of autonomy

The anti-reservation stir by residents and faculty at AIIMS in 2006, however, was a godsend and won him back a lot of lost support in the campus because he refused to call the police to end the strike. The result was that all those against reservation started supporting Venugopal, while all those in favour supported Ramadoss and want the director out of office. This angered many of his colleagues who accused him of splitting the institute along caste lines.

Staying power: back on the director’s chair

A triple-bypass surgery survivor, Venugopal did not hit it off with the health minister from the start, with the director first objecting – through media leaks – to the minister’s use of the AIIMS guesthouse till he was allotted an official bungalow. The minister in turn criticised the functioning of AIIMS, setting the tone for the friction that would ultimately lead to the infamous November sacking. But less than two months before his retirement on June 30, Venugopal is back in the chair he was forced to vacate.

Dr Anbumani ramadoss, 39

Claim to fame

Union health minister, doctor with an MBBS degree from Madras Medical College, Chennai, and son of Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S Ramadoss. Easily the most controversial minister in the UPA government, Ramadoss has displayed an uncanny knack for emerging the winner from several sticky situations.

Doc tuned minister turns

Mr Controversy

Ramadoss first took on both film and tobacco industries by banning smoking on screen and public places. Next, he tried unsuccessfully to overhaul the Medical Council of India. He then offended medical students and doctors by championing 27 per cent OBC reservation in medical colleges and then proposing a compulsory one-year rural posting for all MBBS students, which would have pushed the duration of their course to six-and-a-half year.

In November 2007, Ramadoss got Parliament approval for the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) Bill 2007, which proposes a five-year term for the Director or until he attains the age of 65, whichever is earlier. The bill, critics said, specifically targets the health minister’s pet peeve — 66-year-old AIIMS director and cardiac surgeon Dr P Venugopal — who earned Ramadoss’ ire because he resisted the ministry’s attempt of interfering in the functioning of the hospital.

Fan Club: Champion of reservation and rural health

Ramadoss’ fans — yes, he has some, even at AIIMS — say Venugopal’s removal was not because of a personality clash but done because the Director’s appointment was illegal anyway. No director had been appointed beyond the age of 65 and Dr Venugopal had got to be director till 67 years as he was close to NDA leaders. His appointment as director came during Sushma Swaraj’s stint as health minister in 2003.

Staying power

With the PMK winning 18 seats in the Tamil Nadu assembly last year, Ramadoss has emerged stronger. He continues to court controversy every day and do things more seasoned politicians would fear to consider. The fact that he is still a part of the Manmohan Singh cabinet even after countless people have asked for his head says a lot for his staying power.