The Army Hospital (Research & Referral) in Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi, is deservedly known for its medical expertise and its reputation as a tightly run ship, under the armed forces, comes with due merit. The past five days, I have been witness to this awesome vat of talent. On Monday morning, however, R&R was held at ransom as the system was taken over by the police and civilian administration.
The new President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, was visiting the hospital and the gates were shut to patients, families of patients and those service members in need of aid. Scores of armed cops in khaki, carrying sten guns and self-loading rifles, patrolled the perimeter.
The trudge through trees and foliage would perhaps have been pleasant for some – if you were the sort who enjoys exploring the wilderness – but for the sick and those stressing over unwell relatives, it was a ‘supreme’ inconvenience in the name of the Supreme Commander of the Indian Amed Forces. When the gates were finally opened, people were asked to take a quarter mile diversion, their infants in their arms, through the thick undergrowth and were told to avoid the paved road. One would imagine that using the paved road would be better for security but the jungle it was.
The breathtaking arrogance of the bureaucracy in blocking a hospital and the expenditure incurred in a standard VIP movement belies all the claptrap of simple and Spartan lifestyles our leaders set to music.
Imagine the goodwill replete in a president who goes to the x-ray unit and instead of blocking out other patients (as was the case with Kovind) he mixes in with them. I suspect a Dr APJ Abdul Kalam would have done just this.
By all means, maintain security and give precedence to eminence but not by railroading the public. We are a modern nation. We should make things simpler. The president could have flown in by chopper, had his checkups and flown out without creating such fuss and bother. The brouhaha generated by the civilian bandobust and the swarm of police lets the cat out of the bag as far as security is concerned – even the tea boy knows what’s up.
The pomp and ceremony is a must when it comes to public events like the Republic Day parade but for these run of the mill sorties, there is no need for such a major operation. Other nations are downsizing and compelling their leaders to walk the talk. We, on the other hand, seem to be inflating the conceit. If you are that afraid somebody will get you then don’t join public life.
And for medical visits to such prestigious institutions like R&R, the president should leave it to the armed forces. They will fly you in and back home without any fanfare. Quick, efficient and entirely safe.