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VIP visit overwhelms townsfolk
A Ganesh Nadar in Kumbakonam | July 17, 2004 21:08 IST
The Kumbakonam Government Hospital was crowded. Eleven children were still in the intensive care unit. Only one parent each was allowed inside the ward. The rest of the relatives and well-wishers were all milling outside in the compound.
Then word spread like wild fire. Indira Gandhi's grand-daughter is coming, said one old lady. No dear, it is her grandson who is coming, corrected another.
The district collector confirmed that Rahul Gandhi, MP from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, would be coming to visit the hospital with Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and Rajya Sabha member G K Vasan, son of the late G K Moopanar.
Dr R Anbumani, Union health minister and son of Pattali Makkal Katchi founder Dr S Ramadoss, arrived. The waiting journalists tailed him into the ICU, but were stopped at the door.
Anbumani re-emerged 10 minutes later and held a brief press conference where he blamed the state government run by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam for the tragedy. He said the government had given permission to schools without infrastructure, and the tragedy was a result of such actions.
In his 15 minute press conference, however, the minister did not say if the Centre was going to help, or how. Declamation over, he drove off in his Toyota Qualis.
Two helicopters appeared over the horizon. One was small, the other was huge. A few minutes later, two white Ambassador cars drove into the hospital compound. Rahul Gandhi had arrived, as the collector had said, with Aiyar and Vasan. Gandhi's security detail led him straight into the hospital.
Gandhi remained inside for 30 minutes. The securitymen explained to the press that there was sufficient space only for the VIP and them. If they moved back a few paces there would be space for everybody. The press refused to budge.
By now there were fewer relatives of the victims of the school fire and more curious onlookers and a healthy number of Congress workers.
Gandhi emerged. The bodyguards pushed everyone out of the way. The press screamed, "Rahulji, they are not allowing us to speak to you." "I will speak to you at the helipad," he replied, and made his way to the waiting Ambassador.
From the window of the building opposite the ICU, an old man peered out. Gandhi shook hands with the stunned man, then got into his car and called for Aiyar. He was told that the minister had already got into another car. An old lady now appeared at the window. Gandhi alighted again and shook her hand. The crowd roared its approval.
The car moved slowly through the hospital compound. Gandhi shook hands with all those who were within reach.
The car left the hospital and accelerated towards the Government Ladies College where the helicopter was waiting. Police cars raced after him, followed by the press.
The crowd in the hospital campus began to disperse. People were cheering and laughing. Some others were screaming, "I saw him, I saw him!"
Everybody had forgotten the victims of the fire.
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