Healing the nation
Dr BC Roy was a man whose service as a doctor went beyond the realms of individual patients and extended to serving society as a whole in a variety of roles
Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy, more commonly referred to as Dr BC Roy, was a great medical practitioner of mythical fame. It is no wonder that the National Doctor's Day is celebrated on July 1, on his birth anniversary, which incidentally is also his Death Anniversary. We are all aware of his medical accomplishments, his list of illustrious patients, ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to Rabindranath Tagore, from Pandit Nehru to John F Kennedy, and certainly also about the novel and proverbial ways of his diagnosis. But to consider Dr BC Roy as only a physician would be a travesty. On one hand, Dr BC Roy enjoys an immortal reputation in the annals of medical practice, on the other hand, he is equally acknowledged as a great organiser, a dedicated politician who believed in democracy and as the architect of modern West Bengal. He not only remedied physical diseases; he also sought a cure for social and political maladies. In fact, had he not been an outstanding doctor, he would have still been reckoned as a great individual whose contribution towards his contemporary society and politics stands as exemplary and perpetual. He was the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta, a member of the Bengal Legislative Council and he also held the position of the Mayor of Calcutta. Later, he became the Governor of the State of Uttar Pradesh. However, it is his stint as the Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1948 to1962 during which he attained the pinnacle of his political and administrative achievements
Dr BC Roy suddenly sprang into politics in 1925 when he defeated the 'Grand old man' of Bengal politics, Sir Surendranath Banerjee, as an independent candidate from the Constituency of Barrackpore. That was the beginning of his political career which lasted till his last breath. His growth in political stature and responsibilities did not deter his medical practice or his commitment towards his profession. Dr BC Roy stands tall as a far-sighted professional who realised that the service of a medical practitioner should not just remain confined to the treatment of patients; rather it should go beyond. Propelled by this ideology, Dr BC Roy was instrumental in setting up the Indian Medical Association in 1928, serving the organisation in various capacities. The Medical Council of India was his brainchild and he was its Charter President in 1939. He played a key role in establishing the Indian Institute of Mental Health, an act way ahead of his time and generation, for during those days, mental health was not given its due concern. He opened a centre for nursing training as well. By taking initiative in the formation of these bodies, Dr BC Roy demonstrated his insight into the administrative necessities of the medical profession in India. These bodies are still functioning today as affiliating bodies.
It is known that in his younger days, Dr BC Roy came across an inscription that read 'Whatever thy hands findeth to do, do it with thy might'. This became the motto of his life. He lived during a time when health services, particularly during the days of British rule were not conducive to the benefits of the common man. From his restlessness regarding such shortfalls, sprang up the endeavour with which he played a crucial role in establishing the various medical institutions in Calcutta like the RG Kar Medical College, Jadavpur TB hospital, Victoria Institution, Chittaranjan Seva Sadan and Chittaranjan Cancer Hospital. For his efforts, women, initially reluctant to come for hospital treatment, started shedding off that reservation. Like his political mentor Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das, Dr BC Roy became a friend to the people by upholding the cause of medical education and health services, which has had a far-reaching impact on the lives of the common people. Feeling the need for higher medical studies, Dr BC Roy helped establish the Post Graduate Medical Study Centre in Calcutta. Hence, chiefly due to his initiative, Calcutta became the house of four undergraduate and one post-graduate medical study centre which has been a rare distinction for a particular city in India. Dr BC Roy also helped in the setting up of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Calcutta, one of the first of its type in India.
To become the Chief Minister of West Bengal in 1948 was the toughest challenge that Dr BC Roy had to face. The scene was charged with the huge influx of displaced immigrants from East Pakistan and the wound of communal violence was still fresh and flowing. Owing to these factors, the economy of West Bengal was struggling. There was surging unemployment and the matter of rehabilitation of the exodus from East Pakistan demanded a ready and effective response. Dr BC Roy did not let himself be cowed down.His address to the people sums up his attitude "We have the ability and if with faith, in our future, we exert ourselves with determination, nothing, I am sure, can stop our progress". He undertook the measure of decentralisation and developed places like Saltlake, Kalyani and Durgapur as prospective townships. The process of industrialisation was initiated and we had the Durgapur Steel Plant which also provided employment. To meet the requirement for power, he successfully endeavoured in the installation of power plants. The Calcutta State Transport Corporation was founded. Dr BC Roy believed in holistic development and it was his regime that saw educational institutions like IIM Calcutta and IIT Kharagpur being established in West Bengal. He ensured that when it came to the question of development of West Bengal, he even took his political
opposition into confidence. This kind of inclusive politics and political magnanimity stands as a lost art today. He had true and profound respect for the democratic values in politics. At the convocation address at the University of Lucknow, Dr BC Roy said, "My young friends, you are soldiers in the battle of freedom, the freedom from, fear, ignorance, want, frustration and helplessness". He himself dedicated his life as a crusader against all of these. But even after all this political effort, he kept time for free medical practice aimed at serving his people. He also vouched for empathy that a doctor should have for his patients, something that we so visibly miss today. Dr BC Roy is an ever-shining gem whose radiance can be enlightening to drive out the darkness of emotional indifference and parochial politics by guiding us to understand the language of public welfare through proper governance.
Views expressed are personal