After 2014 there have been very few elections where one has seen a clash of strong personalities. For once the BJP came to power, not only did Narendra Modi become the Prime Minister, he also became the party’s star campaigner. In fact, as S. Prasannarajan, editor, Open magazine, wrote, there has been no local election since 2014. Each election has been fought on the Modi mandate with the PM’s posters adorning each hoarding, larger than life. Yes, there have been some battles where he has had a fight on his hands (such as what happened with Arvind Kejriwal in the last battle for Delhi) but most have been walkovers. However with Mamata Banerjee, the BJP—and PM Modi—have a fight on their hands. And if anyone can match the PM in theatrics and the art of mass connect, it is the TMC leader and current West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
In fact, did the BJP mess up its reaction to Mamata Banerjee’s injuries? Instead of taking her on and calling it fake, if only the PM—or some national leader of standing—had expressed sympathy that would have been the end of this issue. By questioning Mamata they have given her an issue on a platter and also a brand new identity—wheeling in the wounded tigress for the voters. And not one to miss an opportunity, Mamata has played the injuries to the hilt, from the social media outreach from her hospital bed to campaigning on a wheelchair. For, ever since she took on the Left in Singur, Mamata knows all too well how to play the victim card. And so this is an election that is going to be about Mamata vs Modi—yes the issues are there, from CAA, Muslim appeasement, Hindutva, to local governance, but all these have been superseded by the personality cult of the two leaders. Both know how to play the politics of emotion, as a means to distract from the real issues. So, the question really is which of the two can deploy better weapons of mass distraction.
The other states going to the polls lack such a tall leader. In Assam, undoubtedly, CM Sarbananda Sonowal is overshadowed by his No. 2, Himanta Biswa Sarma, but both are from the same party. Tamil Nadu has been missing a personality clash ever since the demise of J. Jayalalithaa and M. Karunanidhi. The DMK’s Stalin did try to play up his personality but in the end his best bet is being his father’s chosen heir. If Sasikala had joined in the electoral fray, then there would have been a personality at play. In Kerala the sitting CM Pinayari Vijayan however has succeeded to an extent in making this election about himself. In fact, some say that perhaps because of his authoritarian ways and strong personality, he is known locally as “Modi in a Mundu”.
In the end, we come back to the age of question—what wins elections? If it’s emotions then we have a full scale drama to watch in West Bengal.
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COVID CRISIS: LOCKDOWN IS NOT THE SOLUTION
Amid an unprecedented surge in Covid infections, the Maharashtra government has imposed what it insists is not a lockdown, but a Section 144. Considering the said section of the IPC prohibits the assembly of four or more people in an area, and given the measures that Maharashtra has taken, its “Section 144” looks a bit too much like the prolonged lockdown of last year. Everything will stay shut in Maharashtra except for the essential services and what is used by the essential services. So public transport, including local trains, will run but can be used only by the essential services. Cargo services and e-commerce will be allowed to function but only if they are supplying essential goods and services. IT services are allowed but only for critical infrastructure. ATMs and postal services will stay open, as well as manufacturing units that produce raw materials for essential products. Hotels, restaurants, malls, markets, factories—everything will stay shut for at least a fortnight or more. What this effectively means is a complete shutdown of sector after sector that were showing some signs of recovery after 2020. Whether the chain of infection breaks or not, what this new avatar of Section 144 will do is break the back of Maharashtra’s economy. And considering Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, this move may have a cascading effect on the country’s economy as well.
There is no study to show that lockdowns are effective in controlling the spread of the coronavirus. In fact experts are of the opinion that lockdowns are the last option, or perhaps not even an option, for it can be a killer for the most vulnerable sections of society. And if some of the vulnerable—in this case the migrant labourers—again start returning home then the possibility of the infection spreading to even the remotest corners of the country increases manifold.
Even though last year’s lockdown has been justified by some experts as having been necessary to prepare the health system to handle a huge number of cases, there is no such reason that can justify a lockdown now when the second wave is raging. Instead, the focus should have been on implementing a strict containment policy, the operative word being “implementation”. The situation in Maharashtra has been going from bad to worse over the last one month, with this single state accounting for 55-60% of the country’s total caseload. But the criticism is that no appropriate containment measures were implemented. People were allowed to throng malls, marketplaces and beaches, tossing Covid appropriate behaviour in the dustbin. The local trains went back to being crowded as ever. Mumbai went back to its nightlife, parties continued. Social distancing norms were violated with impunity, masking was given the go by. When the first corona wave subsided, it was business as usual. There was a possibility that the second wave could have been contained but for that there had to be a policy in place, which was not the case. And now that there is a surge, instead of a lockdown, the concerned authorities should have thought about what is known as an “aggressive containment policy”, which includes heightened testing, contact tracing, isolating, ensuring that social distancing is maintained, no large congregations are allowed to take place either in public or private and that people wash hands and wear masks. Apparently, one of the reasons that this surge is happening is because of the high percentage of asymptomatic cases, because of which the infection is transmitting from person to person very fast—hence the need for implementing social distancing measures.
The only way out of this mess is testing and more testing. Also the vaccination process needs to be ramped up. There is a marked unwillingness among many people to get vaccinated because of the various rumours swirling about the after effects of vaccination and reports of people getting the virus even after being vaccinated fully. The message has to go out that vaccination may not always be able to prevent the virus from attacking a person, but even if such an attack takes place, it is not virulent. It’s very mild and is not fatal. The after effects too can be tackled with over the counter medicines. In fact, from anecdotal evidence it is apparent that large swathes of the underprivileged population do not even know what the vaccination is all about. Educating them about the importance of getting vaccinated should be a priority, for which respective state governments should enhance their local-level health infrastructure. India still has a long way to go before it achieves herd immunity. Until then the infection may be coming back in waves. Whatever be the case, lockdown is not the answer to tackle the virus. It is based on this premise that policy should be made and implemented.
Why National Curriculum Framework must be ‘national’
The 2005 National Curriculum Framework, introduced during the UPA-led government, is in need of review and revision. Mainly because the textbooks produced as per the framework have glaring omissions and anomalies, which are depriving school-going children of an education that exposes them to latest developments in the world while inculcating a sense of national pride.
Children are the foundation on which our future will be built. Therefore, for nation-building, children will have to be nurtured in a way that they grow up to be conscientious and well-developed, can take pride in themselves and their heritage, and are ready to contribute to the progress of the country. For this they need to be given the ‘right’ education through a well-balanced curriculum in schools. However, an ironical situation has developed today for the want of value-based learning in children’s education and its curriculum framework, particularly when assessed from a nationalistic/Indian perspective.
Before we delve into what is not right with regard to children’s education, it would be germane to understand its framework, denominated as the National Curriculum Framework (NCF). NCF, provided for school education, is a detailed outline of the guiding policy and objectives of education, the subjects/courses taught to school-going students, the choice of lessons/texts incorporated, and the pedagogy to impart these.
It is the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an institution under the Ministry of Education, which bears the onus of designing the NCF. It also prepares books in light of the NCF. On the initiative of the Ministry of Education, NCERT set up a committee last year to review the NCF. Here, I would like to point out the reason for the proposed review. An obvious one is that with the numerous developments in various fields it is the need of the hour that students keep abreast of the same. Therefore, the school curriculum must be revised to keep pace with new developments. It’s not without reason that this kind of exercise is initiated every 10 to 15 years.
If we look at the history of NCF’s revisions, we find that it has been revised four times so far: in 1975, 1988, 2000 and 2005. So, the last changes were made 16 years ago. However, in 2000, during the NDA government, the amendments, which had been made after a long and meticulous process under the mentorship of Prof. J.S. Rajput, the then NCERT director, had not gone down well with the Marxists and “liberal academics” associated with the Congress-Left alliance government. Hence, soon after forming the government in 2004, a new NCF was framed at lightning speed in 2005, just five years after the last revision!
On the perusal of the NCF-2005 document, no concrete reason for the changes is apparent. It is cursorily mentioned, “The review of the National Curriculum Framework, 2000 was initiated specifically to address the problem of curriculum load on children.” But contrary to its stated purpose, the burden and complexity has actually increased manifold. Besides, many important points incorporated in the NCF-2000 were deliberately omitted under “ideological pressure”.
If one looks upon the ‘Guiding Principles’ and ‘Objective of Education’ in the NCF-2000, it is found that along with placing equal importance on value education, character building, patriotism, the spirit of national unity and integrity, ‘Fundamental Duties (enshrined in the Indian Constitution by Indira Gandhi)’ were made ‘core components’ of the same. The Fundamental Duties, among others, include abiding by the Constitution, respecting the national flag and the national anthem, maintaining the unity and integrity of the nation, serving the nation, valuing and preserving the rich heritage of our composite culture, etc.
There is little need to iterate how important the above mentioned features are for any country. Unfortunately, under the vested ideological pressure, most of these were pretermitted in the NCF-2005 in the name of a “new” and “child-centered approach”, “learning without burden”, “making learning enjoyable” and a “joyful experience”. However, if one looks at the books put together in the light of NCF-2005, one finds the opposite. For example, in the Social Studies book ‘Social and Political life’ for children of Class VI, who are around 10 or 11 years of age, complex concepts such as “stereotypes” and “prejudice” have been discussed, subjects which such minds would barely comprehend. Similarly, taxing and complex questions as, “What do you think living in India with its rich heritage of diversity adds to your life?”, “Do you think the term ‘Unity in Diversity’ is an appropriate term to describe India?” “What do you think Nehru is trying to say about Indian unity in the sentence quoted above from his book The Discovery of India?” have been asked in the same book. I must repeat here that these questions and concepts are not meant for students of Classes IX, X, XI or XII, but for children from the sixth grade. Can a 10 or 11-year-old fathom such complex socio-psychological and socio-political concepts properly? It is an issue which requires careful deliberation. Another pertinent question which arises in this context is whether negative concepts like ‘prejudice’ and ‘stereotypes’ should be taught to tender minds at this early stage? My contention is not with teaching these concepts as part of the curriculum, for students must understand our social system and its shortcomings, but I would recommend it for higher classes, when the mental growth and the resultant power of comprehension of the pupil enable them to view and assess these issues in totality.
It is a task of great responsibility, and must be determined likewise, to decide what children should learn and at which stage. An example which I would like to extend here is that of sex education. The content to be included in ‘physiology’ or ‘sex education’ and the age to be taught the same demand careful and diligent exercise of wisdom. In the name of necessity, ‘sex education’ or ‘physiology’ cannot be taught to sixth graders. In a blind emulation of the West, subjects cannot be taught as per Western requirements, as cultural values and grounding of the mentioned societies varies vastly.
Sadly, the syllabus for history also suffers from the same impertinence where the glorious and rich traditions of ancient India have been ignored, undermined or distorted. For instance, the Vajji state in ancient India was a republic or a kind of democracy. According to renowned historian K.P. Jaiswal, the concept of democracy in ancient India is older than the Roman or Greek concepts of democracy. But in the NCERT book “Our Pasts-1”, there is a mysterious silence on Indian (Vajji’s) democracy except for a fleeting mention that Vajji had a ‘gana’ system, without making it clear that the ‘gana’ system was a form of democracy. The same text, however, is quick to take cognizance of and categorically mention that there had been democracy in Athens, Greece 2,500 years ago.
Similarly, while discussing the name of our country, the denomination ‘India’ has been subtly given a sort of primacy over ‘Bharat’, mentioning the name ‘India’ first and ‘Bharat’ as the second one. It must be noted that the nomenclature of ‘Bharat’ came at least a thousand years before ‘India’. The word ‘Bharat’ was mentioned at least 3,500 years ago in the Rig Veda, whereas ‘India’ was first used 1,000 years hence by the Greeks.
To cite another example from “Our Pasts-1”, the fourth chapter is titled, unscrupulously, as “What books and burial tell us”. It must be known that this chapter deals mainly with the time of the great Rig Veda. Shouldn’t the same qualify as the chapter title then? Also, there is no mention about the highly regarded status of women at that time. There is indeed a passing reference in a single sentence, which states that “a few (hymns) were composed by women”, but there is no mention that women at that time had various other rights along with the one to study the Vedas. Eminent Marxist scholar of Hindi Ram Vilas Sharma, unlike other Marxists, writes that a large number of women composed the ‘Shuktas’. Romashan, Lopamudra, Ghosha, Appala, Savitri Surya, Kamayani, Shraddha and Yami Vaiswati are a few to name. The fact that they composed Vedic hymns clearly indicates that women had the right to study. In fact, women had many other rights, as they used to fight in battles as well.
Similarly, a discussion on Emperor Skandagupta, who repelled an invasion by the tyrant Indo-Hephthalites (Hunas), Anangpal Tomar of the medieval period, credited to have established Delhi, and the subaltern king Maharaja Suheldev, who defeated the nephew of Mahmud Ghazni, is missing.
One can find hundreds of subtle references, full of fraudulent or incomplete narratives, in history, social studies and literature books. These discrepant narratives, instead of promoting patriotism or a sense of national pride and unity, are bound to breed negative feelings and an inferiority complex in children, particularly in the context of their nation.
In addition, NCF-2005 gives little importance to ancient Indian knowledge and science, philosophy, Ayurveda, yoga, astronomy and metallurgy. These subjects are missing completely from the current books. ‘Vedic Mathematics’, known to increase a pupil’s computational capacity manifold, and is available at private tuitions or on TV channels as a paid service, finds no mention in the curriculum too.
Thus, a review is in order to incorporate various social, economic, scientific and technological developments made in the last 16 years and set right the anomalies mentioned above, with an aim to expose school-going pupils to the latest and correct knowledge that the world has to offer. Towards this objective, a competent academic leadership is necessitated, in the absence of which the growth of school-going children in India will continue to be compromised as they will remain deprived of a well-balanced curriculum even after seven years of a ‘nationalist government’ in existence.
The author is an academician teaching at the Central Department of Hindi, Delhi University. He has also taught in various US universities. He can be reached @NiranjankIndia. The views expressed are personal.
Need to create confidence and positivity to tackle the coronavirus surge
Besides putting in place necessary restrictions and enforcing Covid-appropriate practices, there is a need to instil a sense of positivity and confidence among people right now. States need to ensure that their Covid protocols do not cause panic or stress among citizens.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the whole world and affected vulnerable sections of the society physically, mentally and economically. The recent surge in cases seems to be worse than the previous one and has hit the healthcare system tremendously. The need for hospital beds is on the rise and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get admission into hospitals. The surge continues to rise in some states and projections indicate that a possible decline may take some weeks.
In some of the states, mutated virus variants have created a new sense of disquiet. The UK variant, known to be more contagious, is more prevalent in Punjab. Further, this variant affects younger age groups much more than the original virus. Recent data also shows that the UK variant is more virulent, resulting in increased mortality, even in younger people. There is thus a need for viral sequencing in other states to better understand this surge.
In view of this serious surge, various state governments have rightly initiated some needful restrictions. These include a ban on rallies, a restricted number of people at social functions, in cinema halls and restaurants, and the closure of schools and colleges. However, such restrictions have led to many anticipating more hardships, especially people from low- or medium-income families. The migrant workforce is also scared of consequences if another lockdown is imposed.
Uncertainty about the future has gripped us and people are wondering whether 2021 will be another year full of stress and waste. The effectiveness and feasibility of lockdowns are again a subject of public debate. Experience has perhaps taught us that a full-fledged lockdown can have serious unintended consequences and cause unpalatable collateral damage by endangering the poorer sections of our populace. Therefore, at this time, there is an urgent need to create confidence in the society.
Of course, we have to religiously follow all Covid-appropriate behaviours and Covid-protective practices to prevent the spread of the viral infection. These are simple yet effective daily practices, such as the right use of masks, maintaining the desired physical distance and hand sanitation, which would go a long way in managing and containing the novel coronavirus. During this surge, non-essential activities will also need to be regulated, albeit in a manner that, as far as possible, work should be carried out to ensure the livelihood of every section of society while taking steps to control viral spread.
We must also avoid creating a sense of panic and make every attempt to generate a sense of positivity. While people must be educated about the contagious nature of this virus, it is important that no sense of stigma be permitted to arise against those who test positive. I feel happy that many governments have abandoned the practice of putting labels in front of houses with Covid-positive inhabitants. This had been causing stigma for families. The contact tracing procedures as well as quarantine guidelines must be rationalized so as not to discourage testing. Any hesitation in regard to testing must be removed to enable the early detection of positive cases. To this end, the Government of India could reconsider its suggestion that 25-30 of the contacts traced be isolated and tested. It is a well-known fact that contact for about 30 minutes and within 3 feet without the use of masks is liable to infect an individual. Thus, only such contacts need to be tested. The CDC also recommends testing ten close contacts and this should be carried out within the first four days or so. These measures will go a long way in removing any sense of anxiety or fear from the minds of the public about the fallout of getting tested unnecessarily. Even family members of those who test positive must have the confidence that by maintaining the desired distance, using face masks and following other hygiene practices like frequent handwashing, they can avoid the further spread of the virus within the household.
An aggressive and comprehensive rollout of the vaccination programme is also a must now. Vaccination must be undertaken on a war footing across the country. We must make every attempt to cover as much of our population as we can, in the shortest possible time, given the obvious time constraints arising from a two-shot vaccine. Fortunately, the atmosphere of indecision or vacillation about the vaccination, which we witnessed in the early days of the rollout, now appears to have been replaced by a sense of urgency and enthusiasm regarding vaccination. Full information about the vaccines should be made available in the public domain and doubts or queries should be addressed by the authorities in order to instil further confidence. We need to innovate ways to ensure easy and safe access to the vaccine for every needy person.
In the final analysis, it is only a concerted and coordinated effort by all segments of society which can defeat this virus. We are going through a difficult phase, and some course correction is the need of the hour. Initiating various measures to generate a feeling of confidence in the common man is necessary as an important parallel exercise. The Delhi government’s decision to not admit even non-Covid emergencies in various private hospitals also needs to be urgently reviewed. Does it mean that an acute myocardial infarction emergency can only be treated if it is Covid-positive and not otherwise? All such decisions only further stress the society. It should be a priority that no one is made to feel helpless and stressed at this critical time.
The author is a former Director, PGIMER, Chandigarh and Chairman of the PSRI Heart Institute, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.
NCAH Act: A welcome move for allied & healthcare professionals
The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2020 (NCAH Act) has been passed by Parliament after a long wait. The Act provides for the regulation and maintenance of standards of education and services by allied and healthcare professionals, assessment of institutions, maintenance of a Central Register and State Register, and creation of a system to improve access, research and development and the adoption of latest scientific advancements and for matters connected.
The Act defines an ‘allied health professional’ as an associate, technician or technologist trained to support the diagnosis and treatment of any illness, disease, injury or impairment. Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, explained the reasons and objectives of the Bill as, “Honourable Members, I would say that most of you must have had paid a visit to a hospital at some point in your life, and I wish not, but you might have had to … Please recall those days and remember the people who took care of you and who brought you out of your illness. You may remember the name of the doctor. You may remember the name of the hospital. But do you also remember the name of the persons who took your blood samples, gave you physiotherapy, took your X-ray, advised you on what you should eat, checked your eyesight, assisted your doctor or surgeon, looked into microscopes and bid you farewell with a smile? Who are these people?” They are varied health professionals: lab technicians, physiotherapists, radiographers, dieticians, record keepers, optometrists, X-ray technicians and many more, who are a critical part of the healthcare system and the foundation of the pyramid.
According to studies, the role of doctors, undoubtedly critical, varies between 25 to 50 percent in the entire healthcare chain. A saying goes, “The doctor is next to God, the nurse is next to the doctor, and the pharmacist is closest to the patient’. But there are others who are as vital and integral to the healthcare chain. In fact, these healthcare professionals are the bedrock of an increasingly complex healthcare system. After enacting the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019, which was fiercely contested by a large body of medical practitioners, another transformative piece of legislation, the NCAHP Act, has been enacted. It covers a wide range of healthcare professions which were unrecognised or unregulated till date. The Act is a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery as it recognises the specialised skills and contributions of more than 56 types of allied and healthcare professionals.
The nation, nay, the world, has witnessed the invaluable contribution of these professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic as frontline health workers risked their lives every day fighting the virus. The need for the development and maintenance of standards of services and education of these professionals through a national regulatory body has been long overdue. As early as 1948, the Bhore Committee had stressed the importance of ‘human resources for health with right skills and training’, followed by a host of committees over the years. The first attempt at such a legislation was made in 1953 but the proposal never received the priority that it deserved, perhaps for a lack of unanimity and the dominance of a doctor-centric healthcare system.
The Minister told the Rajya Sabha on 16 March, while responding to the debate on the NCAHP Bill, that bills were introduced on this behalf under different names in 2007 and 2011 which lapsed, and between 2015 and 2021, the legislative proposal was redrafted as many as 75 times. The NCAHP Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2011. However, the bill faced opposition from the existing regulatory bodies. The Standing Committee on Health made wholesale recommendations on the bill. A new bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 31 December 2018. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare on 4 January 2019. Based on the recommendations made by the Committee in its 117th Report in January 2020, a fresh bill, titled the NCAHP Bill, 2020, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 15 September 2020 by withdrawing the pending bill of 2018. The Committee made 110 recommendations and the Government accepted 102.
The Minister assured Parliament that some recommendations and the observations of many of the members who participated in the debate would be suitably incorporated in the rules to be framed under the Act. The Act would regulate and leverage the qualified allied and healthcare workforce and ensure high quality multidisciplinary care ‘in line with the vision of universal health coverage moving towards a more care-accessible and team-based model’. The Act would reform and regulate this entire sector in order to give these professionals their due, increase their employment opportunities, and, more importantly, enhance their dignity by recognising their true worth within the country and globally.
According to a WHO report, there would be a demand of 1.80 crore such professionals by 2030 and qualified Indian professionals would cater to the global shortage. Further, their potential can be utilised to reduce the cost of care and to make quality healthcare services accessible to all. The Act envisages the establishment of a Central Statutory Body as the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions. The Commission will frame policies and standards, regulate professional conduct and prescribe qualifications for all these professions. It will be supported by ten broad Professional Councils, each comprising one or more professions. The institutional structure would enable the assessment and rating of all the allied and healthcare institutions to ensure uniform standards and quality assurance. The Act provides for the registration of all the allied and healthcare professionals. All the professions have been coded as per the International Labour Organisation’s international standards for the classification of occupations which also allows them global recognition and mobility.
A National Allied and Healthcare Advisory Council to advise the National Commission with representation from all the states is provided under the Act to enable adequate representation from all states and Union Territories. Further, each state will have a separate State Council with four autonomous Boards pertaining to undergraduate education, postgraduate education, assessment and rating, and ethics and registration. At a time when there is an acute need for critical reforms in public health, the Act will provide a robust institutional mechanism to improve access to health by focusing on the preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative needs of the population. While doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists in India are regulated through their respective regulatory bodies, the allied and healthcare professions are still unstructured and unregulated. The potential of these professionals can be harnessed to reduce the cost of care and make quality healthcare services accessible to all. A healthcare professional includes a scientist, therapist, or any other professional who studies, advises, researches, supervises, or provides preventive, curative, rehabilitative, therapeutic, or promotional health services. Such a professional should have obtained a degree under this Act. These are mentioned in the Schedule to the Act and they include life science professionals, trauma and burn care professionals, surgical and anaesthesia related technology professionals, physiotherapists, and nutrition science professionals, etc. Anyone who contravenes the provisions of the Act shall be punished.
Globally, most countries have a regulatory framework for standardised education and training. But in India, there was an absence of a regulatory framework and lack of a standardised education curriculum as well as training for these allied and healthcare professionals – a void now removed. The NCAHP Act, 2020 is a landmark legislation which will go down in the history of healthcare revolution in India. It will go a long way in transforming the healthcare scenario as it makes a paradigm shift in the administration of the entire healthcare system.
India is on course for wholesale health sector reforms. Apart from the two transformative laws enacted, and referred to above, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 has been passed during this Budget session. But the arch of reform would be completed with the enactment of the National Nursing and Midwifery Commission Bill, the National Dental Commission Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill. Hopefully, the government will complete the remainder of the health sector reforms, mindful of the fact that healthcare costs hit voters hard and, if ignored, will hit back at politicians harder. Healthcare is no more a thing of benevolence but an integral part of the right to life, and a game changer for electoral politics.
The author is former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha, and a public policy expert. The views expressed are personal.
OUR CONFUSED RESPONSE TO COVID-19
On the one hand we have our television screens full of visuals of crowded elections rallies and even more crowded gatherings at the Kumbh Mela, some masked, some otherwise. On the other hand, we are told that if we are seen without a mask in a public place, even if that is one person travelling alone in his or her car, then we will be fined. How does one correlate the two? Social media is full of memes and tweets raising this issue but somehow various state governments—and of course the Centre—are oblivious to this irony. This reminds of the delay in implementing the lockdown. We delayed because of the Madhya Pradesh government trust vote initiated by the BJP against the then Kamal Nath government. We delayed because we had the high-profile Donald Trump visit. We didn’t listen to the one politician who was warning us about the looming disaster en route from Wuhan simply because we felt Rahul Gandhi as a politician lacks credibility. Yes, of course, the Prime Minister was able to implement the world’s longest lockdown but he lost on the timing and the suddenness of the move, catching thousands of migrant workers unaware. That time it could be argued that he—or anyone else—did not know better as a pandemic on this scale was something no world leader had grappled with earlier.
But what explains now. We have the scale to be the world’s largest vaccine producer and yet, it is India that is running short of vaccines. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world’s largest vaccine producing company. India has to vaccinate 1.3 billion people but after hitting a target of approximately 94 million the stocks are running low. Cyrus Poonawalla has publicly appealed for more funds; various experts are suggesting various solutions—anything but a lockdown. But there seems a remarkable lack of follow up. As a result, in all probability another lockdown is exactly where we are all heading. Maharashtra is already toying with a limited lockdown, various cities have gone in for graded lockdowns, there is night curfew in place as well. The Delhi Chief Minister has made it clear that he is not in favour of another lockdown, but his latest statement is worrying as he is hinting that this may be the only option left for him.
In the end, the grim message is one of failure. From the covidiots who are still not taking the adequate precautions, to the politicians addressing, pandering to their vote-banks by allowing the Kumbh Mela but hitting the small traders, restaurant owners and other MSMEs by limiting their sphere of activities. Top this with the vaccination shortage and we have a pandemic plus problem on our hands.
The Delhi Chief Minister has made it clear that he is not in favour of another lockdown, but his latest statement is worrying as he is hinting that this may be the only option left for him.
NSUI CELEBRATES ITS GOLDEN JUBILEE BY REMEMBERING INDIRA GANDHI
The National Students Union of India, the student wing of the Congress, celebrated its golden jubilee on Friday (9 April) by recalling the contributions of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership the frontal organisation was launched in 1971. To mark the occasion, a poster of the former PM with Brij Mohan Bhama, one of the founding members flanking her, was released. Also on this day, Hari Shankar Gupta, former Delhi University Students’ Union president, the first NSUI nominee to be elected to any position in the capital, also released a letter signed by former NSUI chief Geetanjali Maken appointing him as the treasurer of the Delhi unit in 1977.
The NSUI has come a long way since its inception and has produced several distinguished leaders including Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the founding president, K.C. Joseph, Harikesh Bahadur, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik, Ramesh Chenithala, Ajay Maken and Manish Tewari amongst others. Soon after the Congress split in 1969, and Babu Jagjivan Ram was appointed the president of the Congress owing allegiance to Indira Gandhi with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna as his general secretary, a need was felt to have a students’ wing of the party to oppose the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the RSS, as well as the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (Socialist Party), the All India Students Federation (CPI) and the Students Federation of India (CPM). Bahuguna was successful in getting Indira Gandhi’s approval and the organisation was founded under the name of National Union Of Students at a convention attended by four of its founding members—Rangarajan, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vyalar Ravi and Brij Mohan Bhama, then an upcoming student leader of Delhi. However, in 1972-73, the NUS was renamed as the NSUI with Rangarajan as the first president and Harikesh Bahadur, K.C. Joseph and Pradeep Bhattacharya as general secretaries. The body was expanded by including Ram Kumar Bhargava as general secretary and Rohit Bal Vohra (Pappu) as the secretary besides Raman Chopra as office secretary.
The NSUI contested its first DUSU election by fielding Mool Chand Sharma against the present VHP chief, Alok Kumar, in 1973-74 and a year later by declaring Bhama as its candidate to oppose Arun Jaitley of the ABVP. In Delhi, it became a force under the leadership of Deepak Malhotra, who was ably assisted by Prem Swarup Nayyar, Vijay Lochav, Kewal Krishan Handa, Kavita Mehra and subsequently by Sunil Chopra and Mehmood Zia. The NSUI was also patronised by Nasikrao Tirupude and Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra. Tirupude was able to assist Satish Chaturvedi to get elected as the president of the Nagpur University despite a stiff challenge from the ABVP in the RSS bastion. Geetanjali was elected as the president of the Bhopal University Students Union. After Rangarajan, the NSUI was headed by Mohan Gopal, till recently a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and then by Geetanjali Maken. Deepak Malhotra, Anand Sharma and Imran Kidwai were its principal leaders with Ashok Gehlot heading the Rajasthan unit. In fact, when Gehlot was declared as the Rajasthan chief, Rohit Bal Vohra, drove all the way to Jaipur to deliver his appointment letter personally to him. Gehlot never forgot this gesture and when Vohra passed away in 2011, he flew especially from Jaipur to attend his funeral. Such were the bonds.
In Delhi, the NSUI tasted success for the first time in 1978 with Hari Shankar Gupta as its candidate. The losing ABVP nominee, Surendra Pushkarna, committed suicide. A mystery in the Congress is that Hari Shankar despite being a great organisation man has never been considered for heading the Delhi Congress which badly needs a person of his calibre. The NSUI saga in the university had begun and in 1985, Ajay Maken and a year after him, Madan Singh Bisht were elected DUSU presidents. The Congress, if it wishes to revive itself, must strengthen its frontal organisations. And when it celebrates its momentous occasions, it must not forget to invite its former members and office bearers. All of them had, in their own ways, played a role in the evolution of the NSUI.
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