Room No. 23 at Jaipur’s Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Hospital looks like any other room at the medical facility. No swivel doors, reflective floor tiles or any of the on-duty staff welcoming you with a smile --- some of the characteristics that one would normally associate with a VIP section at a government hospital.
State health minister Kali Charan Saraf on Saturday reportedly said that the BJP workers can go to Room No .23 and avail VIP facilities. The comment evoked a sharp reaction from the opposition Congress following which the minister claimed that he was misquoted.
Old ceiling fans dangle in the room that has been divided into seven cubicles. A steel almirah near the wash basin in the room bears the writing in white paint: “Room No 23 / VIP”.
Outside the room, patients and attendants shuffle around with papers in their hands while some flock to the drug store opposite to it. Signboards inform about the WiFi service at the hospital and also about the area being under the CCTV surveillance.
“Kali Charan ji jaisa koi mantri nahin hai poore Rajasthan ki dharti pe. Koi bhi chala jaye uski madad karte hain (There is no minister like Kali Charan Saraf in Rajasthan. He helps everybody),” says Pintu Sharma, who claims to be working for the minister. He is accompanying another BJP worker who is constantly scratching his body and has come to seek treatment at Room No. 23.
Sharma blames the media for “distorting” Saraf’s remarks. “The minister meant that the room’s facilities are already being used by ordinary patients and the BJP workers too should not face any kind of problem in medical consultation,” he adds.
A woman patient in the room seeking medication for the swelling in her leg says she did not know that it was a VIP room.
A hospital staff says that the room was meant for routine check-up. “IAS, IPS, and RAS officers or MLAs are given preference if and when they come. Otherwise, the room serves the general patients,” he says requesting not to be named.
Navratan Sharma, a patient in his sixties recalling his long association with the Congress and his grandfather’s role in the independence movement, alleges that the minister was trying to attract people to the BJP by extending such benefits. He has come to the Room No. 23 to get his blood sugar level checked.
Another BJP worker, Vinod Mathur, was also present in the room. He had come after hearing the minister’s remarks. Working at the BJP office since past 26 years, he had come to get his eyesight checked. “Here, the turn comes a little earlier,” he adds.