Notwithstanding external affairs minister Salman Khurshid’s assertion that the 23-year-old gang-rape survivor, Patient X, was shifted to a Singapore hospital purely out of medical reasons, sources both within the government as well as in the ruling Congress confide political exigencies worked heavily while taking the decision.
Patient X was flown in a specially-equipped Canadian Regional Jet air ambulance to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore late on Wednesday night.
Though the prime minister had been constantly inquiring about her health, the decision to finally shift her out of the country was taken at a meeting of top Congress core group leaders, who met at the PM’s residence late on Tuesday. Unnerved by the violent protests, the two-and-a-half-hour meeting agreed that shifting of the victim could help salvage the situation.
Besides the PM, the meeting was attended by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, defence minister AK Antony, finance minister P Chidambaram and Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel. Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath were also invited. Earlier on Sunday, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit had also asked both the PM and the home minister to find a hospital outside India for Patient X’s treatment.
After this meeting, the prime minister called health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and asked him to explore options and find the best hospitals abroad having expertise in organ transplant as the gang-rape survivor needs an intestine transplant. At the same time, home minister Shinde was told to coordinate with the external affairs minister for arranging travel papers for Patient X and her family.
After talking to a host of medical experts, the health ministry zeroed in on some hospitals in the US, Canada, Germany and Singapore,
At the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, it was quite visible that the political class had been rattled by the violent protests on the streets. Setting aside the agenda, NCP chief and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar raised the issue. Pawar also suggested, if she could be shifted out of country. The health minister replied, saying such an option was on the cards.
Though Khurshid said the government had only helped in the logistics like providing passports for travel, hospitalisation and boarding and lodging of the family, the way the travel papers were processed and the kind of secrecy that was maintained in the whole arrangement made it look like a spy operation. During the cabinet meeting, Chidambaram did express apprehension if Patient X would be able to undertake air travel, but he was told that leading cardiac surgeon Dr Naresh Trehan was being consulted. However, by then the doctor had already given his consent to move the patient in a specially-equipped air ambulance.
An official from the Regional Passport Office (RPO) along with a photographer visited the Safdarjung Hospital just hours after the cabinet meeting, took pictures and signatures of the girl and her parents. And the passports were ready.
Health ministry officials also discounted the government view that the patient could be treated better in Singapore. They said such facilities did exist not only at the AIIMS, but also at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, where patients from war-torn Afghanistan were even treated for transplants.