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Waiting for the President

india Updated: Jun 30, 2007 00:47 IST

The UPA-Left alliance’s decision to field Pratibha Patil as their candidate for the Presidency of Republic took me, as it did the vast majority of my countrymen, by surprise. As for me, I confess the only Pratibha I knew was Pratibha Prahlad, the Bharatanatyam dancer and a mother of identical twins. My ignorance cannot be held against Pratibha Patil.

If Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh think she is most suited to become Head of the State, what are opinions of ignoramuses like me worth? However, I must admit my initial reaction to the announcement was the same as those of the outgoing President Abdul Kalam.

When asked about how he felt about his proposed successor, he replied, “fantastic”. And repeated the word twice. I repeat it again “fantastic”. I hope she lives up to the hope the Congress and Left parties repose in her.

Though now too late, I wish the people’s wishes had been given the due consideration. Public opinion polls conducted by some national newspapers showed that a preponderant majority wanted to give Kalam a second term. He made it clear he would be willing if the choice was unanimous. Since it was not, he opted out of the race. We hope even in his retirement he will remain our guide, philosopher and inspiration.

My alternative choice would have been either Somnath Chatterjee or Dr Karan Singh. The saffronites would not accept Chatterjee because of his communist affiliations. They might have agreed to support Karan Singh. He is, as he says himself, best qualified for the job. He has a gracious, princely presence, scholarship and a way with words.

My only reservation about him is his belief in astrology. Apparently his horoscope assured him he would become the Head of State. To him it meant more than being Sadr-I-Riyasat of Kashmir. He construed it as a Prime Minister or President of India. Horoscope of both Jayalalithaa and Subramaniam Swamy likewise assured them of the top positions.

Unfortunately none of the three are going to make it. Belief in astrology is not only of academic interest but reflects on the personality of a person. It entails belief in auspicious and inauspicious days and hours, in Rahu Kalams and Sahni’s baneful influence.

If the head of a state who has to take decisions in times of national crisis is influenced by such irrational garbage, which is integral to belief in astrology, one is justified in having reservations about him. I have great respect for Bhairon Singh Shekhawat: as Vice-President he conducted himself with dignity. But his RSS background casts a shadow on his ability to take the right decision in times when communal interests are at variance.

So, though we know little about Pratibha Patil, we hope and pray she will set a precedent that a woman can be as inspiring Rashtrapati as any man.

Hospital for the poor

One thing that can be said in favour of religious institutions is that many of them also run hospitals for the poor. Foremost among them is the Ramakrishna Mission: it lays more emphasis on sewa (service) than on paath-pooja (prayer) or meditation.

Whenever a catastrophe like an earthquake or Tsunami-like tidal wave strikes, among the first to arrive on the scene of disaster are doctors and volunteers of the mission with medicines and food. The spirit that animates them is that of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda. That explains the genesis of the Rural Medicare Centre in village Saidulajab near Saket on the outskirts of New Delhi. It was conceived by Dr S.K. Banerjee and his wife Shilpa – both devotees of the mission; they felt that the gap between Delhi and the surrounding village, as regards with doctors and medical facilities, was too great: The city’s doctors fees and hospital charges were beyond the pockets of the poor. So they set up a clinic in a broken-down godown in 1976. Other doctors joined them.

Their fees were what their patients could afford — or none at all. Before they retired to Dehradun, Banerjees were able to persuade the then Lt. Governor of Delhi L.K. Dave to give them a few acres of land in the periphery of Delhi and start building a hospital for the poor.

They asked nothing more from the government. More and more doctors pitched in for voluntary service. A donation of Rs 5 lakh got them really going. Where the Banerjees left off, Dr D.P.S. Toor who has a clinic in Khan Market and gynecologist Dr Seema Malhotra took over. Today the Rural Medicare Centre has volunteer doctors (four of them resident), 66 Paramedical staff, 30 beds and a fully equipped Operating Theatre. Consultation fees are Rs 20; for the rest whatever a patient can afford. You can have major surgery for Rs 1,200. Similar operations in Escorts, Fortis or Apollos would cost around Rs 1 lakh.

Hospitals like the Rural Medicare Centre can only be run close to cities where city doctors can continue their private practice while working free of charge for the rural poor. That is what Dr Toor does everyday. Most of the day he spends in Saidulajab performing surgeries twice a week. Evenings he works in his clinic in Khan Market to earn some money. He puts it aptly: “I spend my mornings in Bharat and my evenings in India.”

Theek hai
Banta: Can you tell me: “What a Ford is?
Santa: Sure! It is a gadee (motor car).
Banta: Then tell me what is Oxford?
Santa: Sure, sure! Oxford is baiyl dee gaddee (a bullock cart).

(Contributed by JP Singh Kaka, Bhopal)