Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen repeatedly said that for the development of the country, primary necessity is primary health and education services. If health is not given importance then a country or a nation cannot prosper. The backbone of a country is the development of these two.
Jyoti Basu was the Chief Minister of West Bengal when Prasanta Sur was the state Health Minister. I can still remember that time, there was anger across the state about the mismanagement of hospitals. Health is a kind of service that solution to grievances of patients is not easy for the government. There is a problem of demand and supply. But it is not that the leader of the ruling party has no role to play in the health sector. I saw the movement of doctors and protesters against Sur. When looking at government hospitals in Kolkata, I started going to hospitals one by one as a young journalist. I saw the condition of patients’ beds in hospitals. There were blood stains on pillows. There was no blood in blood banks. I went to a hospital late at night and saw various types of businesses running there.
When junior doctors started the movement in 1984, Jyoti Basu and his government said the doctors would not sit in discussions. But, in the end, Jyoti Babu had to sit down under pressure to negotiate. On that day I was in Kolkata and today in the national capital of Delhi — three decades have passed but the situation has not changed yet.
Now what is happening in West Bengal is spreading to other states. AIIMS doctors in Delhi are looking after patients wearing a helmet. This is the symbolic movement of junior doctors. It was found that the movement spread to Hyderabad, Maharashtra and other states. In medicine, the problem is not merely with services. Corruption exists in government as well as in private hospitals. Hospitals have a ‘broker’ facility. If a patient’s bill is Rs six lakh, the broker will come and say in private, ‘I will reduce the bill by half’ in front of doctors. However, the patient will have to pay Rs one lakh to the broker in return for that. In many cases, doctors are also involved with brokers. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee formed a committee to solve this problem. It is not yet known whether the committee made any recommendations and what action was taken on its report.
This time around, many issues came up during the movement of junior doctors in Kolkata. Firstly, regarding the movement of doctors, it is not very desirable that the matter has become a laboratory of Trinamool versus BJP politics. Initially, there was no need for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to come to the doctors. And when the Chief Minister came, everyone started the slogan – ‘We want Justice’. Mamata Banerjee need not have got so angry on hearing those chants.
The BJP is desperate to bake the bread of politics in this movement. No surprises there. Once the Trinamool Congress had done exactly that. But the BJP has not entered the movement directly. Besides, the protesters could also go against the BJP because these doctors are not from the BJP. No flag of any political party was seen there. Junior doctors are not lumpen or mafia and not anti-social either. They represent the urban intellectual comprising meritorious students. But Mamata Banerjee said that the agitation was being run by outsiders.
Meanwhile, Hindu-Muslim polarisation occurred. Among the deceased patients, there were Hindus and Muslims. But when a truckful of young men protested the death of a Muslim patient, a BJP leader tweeted that the attackers said that the attackers are not Muslims, the Mamta government was not taking any action against them. Referring to this allegation, grassroots leaders said that BJP was communalising this incident.
Mamata Banerjee is concerned about Hindu politics. Hence, she is more aggressive. Now the biggest weapon of this attack is the Bengali nationalist protest against religious polarization. It has been announced that those in Bengal will have to speak Bengali. In the sixties, when the anti-Tamil movement was launched, Bengalis did not start an anti-Hindi movement. So, in the year 2019, what will be the success of Mamata using a political weapon?
But then what started the junior doctors’ movement? Did medical service become secondary? Is that not an issue? And what is the role of the centre in this health crisis? The central government has an important role in the development of medical services. There are not enough doctors in government hospitals. This is a problem across the country. In West Bengal, politics became bigger than the problem of medical service.