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Bengal’s physician chief minister

Bengal’s physician chief minister

Praveen Davar |

Dr BC Roy, a renowned freedom fighter and physician, was the second Chief Minister of West Bengal-from 1948 till his death in 1962. The term of his predecessor PC Ghosh lasted barely an year after independence. It is very rare, perhaps rarest of the rare, that birth of a person and his death take place on the same day and month. Bidhan Chandra Roy was born on 1 July 1882 and died on 1 July 1962.

Born in Patna to Prakash Chandra Roy and Aghorkamini Devi, Bidhan passed matric examination from Patna Collegiate School in 1897 and did his intermediate from Presidency College, Calcutta and BA from Patna College with Honours in Mathematics. He applied for Engineering in Bengal Engineering College and Calcutta Medical College. He got admission in both, but opted to join Calcutta Medical College. Bidhan’s term in medical school was fraught with hardships. His father retired as a Deputy Collector after the first year and could no longer send Bidhan any money. Bidhan fended for himself by getting a scholarship and living frugally, saving on books by borrowing notes and relying on books in the library.

The partition of Bengal was announced while Bidhan was in college. Opposition to the partition was being organised by nationalist leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal, the famous Lal-Bal-Pal trio. Bidhan resisted the immense pull of the movement. He controlled his emotions and concentrated on his studies realising that he could better serve his nation by qualifying in his profession first Immediately after graduation, B.C. Roy joined the Provincial Health Service where he exhibited immense dedication and hard work. Bidhan sailed for England with only Rs. 1,200 in February 1909 intending to enroll himself at St Bartholomew’s Hospital to further his education.

The Dean, reluctant to accept a student from Asia, rejected Bidhan’s application. Dr. Roy did not lose heart. Again and again he submitted his application until finally the Dean, after 30 admission requests, accepted Bidhan to the college. Within two years and three months, Bidhan completed his M.R.C.P. and F.R.C.S. and returned home from England in 1911. On his return he taught at the Calcutta Medical College, then the Campbell Medical School and finally at the Carmichael Medical College. BC Roy believed that Swaraj would remain a dream unless the people were healthy and strong in mind and body. He made contributions to the organisation of medical education. He established the Jadavpur T.B. Hospital, Chittaranjan Seva Sadan, Kamala Nehru Hospital, Victoria Institution and Chittaranjan Cancer Hospital. The Chittaranjan Seva Sadan for women and children was opened in 1926. The women were unwilling to come to the hospital initially but thanks to the hard work of Dr. Roy and his team, the Seva Sadan was embraced by women of all classes and communities.

He opened a centre for training women in nursing and social work. Dr. Roy entered politics in 1925. He ran for elections from the Barrackpore Constituency as an Independent candidate for the Bengal Legislative Council and defeated the "Grand Old Man of Bengal," Surendranath Banerjee. Even though an independent he voted with the Swaraj Party (the Parliamentary wing of the Congress in the 1920s). In 1925, after the death of CR Das, who had founded the Swaraj party alongwith Motilal Nehru, BC Roy emerged as the face of the Swaraj Party in Bengal. He not only became a close associate of Motilal Nehru but also his personal physician.

Dr. Roy was elected to the All India Congress Committee in 1928. He kept himself away from rivalry and conflicts and made a deep impression on the leaders. Dr. Roy efficiently conducted the Civil Disobedience in Bengal which prompted Pandit Motilal Nehru to nominate him as Member of the Working Committee (CWC). The CWC was declared an unlawful assembly and Dr. Roy along with other members of the committee was arrested on 26 August 1930 and detained at Central Alipore Jail. Dr. Roy served as the Alderman of the Calcutta Corporation from 1930–31 and Mayor in 1933. Under him, the Corporation made substantial progress in the expansion of free education, free medical aid, better roads, improved lighting, and water supply.

He was responsible for setting up a framework for dispensing grant-in-aid to hospitals and charitable dispensaries In 1942, Rangoon fell to Japanese bombing and caused an exodus from Calcutta fearing Japanese insurgency. Dr. Roy was serving as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calcutta. He acquired air-raid shelters for schools and college students to have their classes in, and provided relief for students, teachers and employees alike. In recognition of his efforts, the Doctorate of Science was conferred upon him in 1944. Dr. Roy accepted the position of Chief Minister and took office on 23 January 1948. Bengal at the time that had been torn by communal violence, shortage of food, unemployment and a large flow of refugees in the wake of the creation of East Pakistan. Dr. Roy brought unity and discipline amongst the party ranks. He then systematically and calmly began to work on the immense task in front of him.

Within three years law and order returned to Bengal and it soon became one of the most efficiently run state administrations. He told the people: “We have the ability and if, with faith in our future, we exert ourselves with determination, nothing, I am sure, no obstacles, however formidable or insurmountable they may appear at present, can stop our progress… (if) all work unitedly, keeping our vision clear and with a firm grasp of our problems.” Despite being Chief Minister with a hectic political and administrative schedule, BC Roy continued to devote time for his patients every day of the week.

Dr. Roy believed that the youth of India would determine the future of the nation. He felt that the youth must not take part in strikes and fasts, but should study and commit themselves to social work. At his Convocation Address on 15 December 1956 at the University of Lucknow, Dr. Roy said, "My young friends, you are soldiers in the battle of freedom – freedom from want, fear, ignorance, frustration and helplessness. By a dint of hard work for the country, rendered in a spirit of selfless service, may you march ahead with hope and courage.” Conferred the Bharat Ratna in 1961, Dr BC Roy passed away in Calcutta on 1 July 1962 while he was still the Chief Minister. Paying tributes to him, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru&’s cabinet declared his birth anniversary as Doctor&’s Day’ which is celebrated as such every year. Though Jyoti Basu of CPI(M) was West Bengal&’s longest serving Chief minister, the popularity of Bidhan Babu as CM is yet to be surpassed.