It all started on a bright sunny morning some 40 years ago. The date was July 2, 1975, precisely six days after the Emergency was imposed in the country on June 26, 1975. The campus of the Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGI) was abuzz with many rumours, including the possibility of a ‘senior and important’ politician being brought to the PGI.
It turned out to be Jayaprakash Narayan, (widely referred to as JP). The popular leader and strong opponent of Indira Gandhi had been brought to the PGI guest house and moved to the hospital the previous night.
SK Jindal, 66, former professor and head of the department of pulmonary medicine, PGI, recalls: “Having created a mass movement prior to his arrest, JP felt suffocated on the closely guarded premises, even though he was allowed to move around. He wished to hear the chirping birds and move away from the monotonous hospital environment. He did not wish for the soft and cautious medical care but for the hustle and bustle of the crowd. He preferred any day a prison with an open compound.”
Alone in the crowd
Jindal further says, “JP was alone in the crowd of security and health personnel surrounding him. The crowd was too disciplined to suit a revolution. We could not help him beyond the administration of medicines and hackneyed reassurances. He needed to discuss the larger issues with his team of national and political leaders”.
The four-month stay of the stalwart as a political prisoner in the PGI is described in a chapter in a book ‘Medical Encounters’ that has been penned by SK Jindal. The book of memoirs is due for release next month.
The chapter titled ‘JP- the quintessential leader of 1975’ recalls the highs and lows of the experience in which Jindal was part of medical team as a senior resident doctor to look after the leader. The team was led by PGI director PN Chuttani, senior nephrologists KS Chugh and others as JP’s health had deteriorated in the pre-Emergency period.
On September 18, he was moved to institute’s guest house where he was able to take a walk in the lawn and read more freely. However, he had to be shifted back to the hospital in October-end as he suffered a loss of appetite.
Depression was a diagnosis but it was not confirmed by a psychiatrist. In November, his condition deteriorated and it was evident that he would soon need dialysis. His condition was particularly bad on the night of November 11 and there was a constant exchange of calls between Chandigarh and Dellhi. Next morning he was served with release orders on parole.
“He was altogether a different man in the morning. He was pleased, looked cheerful and relaxed. For the first time in the past several weeks, he ate his breakfast well,” remembers Jindal. JP’s tongue-in-cheek comment to Jindal was: “The Queen has finally felt mercy on me”.
Revenge and retribution
After the Janata Party came to power in 1977, Raj Narain, was the health minister in Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s cabinet. In 1978, PN Chuttani was replaced as the director of PGI and an inquiry was held to look into the nature and adequacy of treatment provided to JP at Chandigarh. When a delegation of senior doctors went to meet Desai to seek his intervention, he dismissed the whole thing as a joke saying: “Do not worry. I know that you have behaved and acted professionally. Has any political inquiry ever been meaningful?”
The PGI and its doctors came out unscathed. However, the doctor recalls those times as testing. Rumours were rife but since there was heavy censorship, nothing appeared in the media.
Jindal says: “Therefore, the institute could not issue a statement to refute such claims. Today, I cannot vouch for telephone calls but surely know that no senior minister from the Centre had ever bothered to pay a visit, and that JP was alive but living as an isolated man amongst a large number of dummies in a cruel VIP ward”.