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October 10, 2000
The Rediff Interview/ Ashok Tandon
'The PM is a very positive person'
Ashok Tandon, officer on special duty at the Prime Minister's Office, discusses how the PMO will function away from its historic perch in the capital, in this interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt.
This whole event -- the PM's surgery -- is quite dramatic. The PM with his entire office is in Mumbai. Don't you find it historic?
No, that is not quite true. The prime minister in fact has been very busy clearing files since the last two days. He even worked over the weekend and till the time he left for Mumbai, he has been signing and dictating letters. Just as he was leaving for Mumbai his private secretary, V Anandrajan, went to him with a file. He cleared nearly 75 files on Monday and after a break of barely three or four days, he will start work again.
We would like to correct you. It is not as if the entire PMO has been shifted to Bombay. The prime minister has two private secretaries, one of whom, Ajay Bisarai is in Delhi. The PMO comprises seven joint secretaries, from among whom only one, Ashok Saikia, is here. The rest of them are in Delhi. None of the nine directors in the PMO are in Mumbai. Only the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra, is here.
Then again, only two physicians from here are attending on the PM, the rest are from AIIMS. Back home, the PMO is functioning normally.
How many officers from the PMO have flown down to Mumbai?
Only six. Four personal assistants work in six-hour shifts, round the clock. We are here with a bare minimum staff.
Under normal circumstances, how many people accompany the prime minister when he is on tour?
One private secretary, one joint secretary. one mediaman, two personal assistants and one Hindi and one English steno. And one computer always travels with him. He carries a laptop wherever he goes.
The nature of his visit to Mumbai has generated some excitement. It has become big news. Whenever he visits a city, a hotline is established at all the different venues he visits in a day. This time, three hotlines have been set up. One at the Breach Candy hospital, another at the Sahyadri guest house and a third at Raj Bhavan because Brajesh Mishra is staying there.
But his illness has generated a lot of curiosity, right?
The nation is praying for him, but there are no apprehensions. People are aware it is just a knee surgery that he has to undergo. He has gone through worse times when one of his kidneys was removed. That was a life threatening experience. He has selected an Indian doctor for his knee surgery. He is getting operated in India. No foreign exchange has been used. Foreign exchange worth Rs 8 crore was used for V P Singh's treatment abroad.
Why did he chose Mumbai?
Dr Ranawat feels at home at the Breach Candy hospital. When you go for medical treatment, you have to give your doctor that much choice at least.
How was the PM's mood after he got admitted?
Very good. He is so active. He said, "Chalo, Soli ki khabar puchte hai (Let us find out how Soli is doing). He wanted to go to the sixth floor to meet (Attorney General) Soli Sorabjee. We advised him against doing so because it would have restricted the movements of the other patients. Eventually, we called Soli over to the PM's room where they met.
The most important factor in any surgery is the patient's tolerance power. How is the PM in this respect?
He is quite tolerant. His temperament is not like that of a stubborn child. He will listen to the doctor's advice. His coming to Mumbai is enough proof of this fact. The doctor would have not refused him if he wanted the surgery to be done in Delhi.
In his portraits, the PM always looks sad, disenchanted and gloomy. Why?
Not anymore. Some time back, he had pain. But since he was diagnosed in New York, he has been fine. There is no uncertainity anymore. He knows he can be cured. Things are back to normal now.
Is anyone from his family with him here? Namita and Neha, his foster daughter and grand-daughter?
Yes they are here. They are staying at Raj Bhavan.
When he left home to catch the flight to Mumbai, how were he and the people around him feeling?
It was like any other trip. Let me tell you, today's excitement was nothing compared to what it was when he set out for Lahore. That was something special. We were full of emotions and excitement then.
Many people are mildly suggesting that the PM should lose weight. Don't you think so?
It is very difficult to do so. Everybody has gained weight at the PMO because of fewer movement and longer days. What is the PM's average day like? He works, meets people and heads meetings between 9 am and 2 pm, and again from 4 pm to 9 pm every day. Where is the scope for much movement? This is his normal routine. Outdoor activities are limited.
What do you think the PM's mood will be like in the post-operation period?
Please quote me on this. He is a very positive person. The anesthesia that will be administered on him will be partial what they call regional. He will be conscious through the surgery. I assure you, he will be in good spirits. He will be cheerful.
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