In a democracy, especially in its political discourse, evil is as difficult to counter as it is to define. You see its damage in real time and systems to douse them become laggards. Groups eventually become gangs that suffocate dialogue and prime lies leading to verbal and in some cases, physical violence and murder. Gangs are driven by bullies who vow vengeance for having lost a fight or an election of for even being overtaken on a street.
As I write, a form of evil is negotiating peace with savers of life and givers of hope – India’s doctors who went on strike after some of them were beaten up in West Bengal for failing to attend to a patient. I’m not going to dirty this space by bringing religion into it. I am more concerned about how absence of trust speaks to power with trust where the only language is abetment of violence?
How do people who have taken an oath to save lives speak to those who want to kill them? How can a wicked and wily politician (her political speeches are strewn with threats and fear-mongering) like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stoke communal fires with every word while stretching out her hand of goodwill to medical doctors? The problem is not meetings and declarations. The problem is lack of trust in the state government in Calcutta and also in New Delhi that allowed the situation to rot claiming health was a state subject. The end of the tunnel is nowhere is sight for people who matter i.e. patients.
There is something evil happening in West Bengal – so evil that neither Calcutta nor even the central government in New Delhi will be able to repair it as the model is permanently damaged. That may serve Banerjee, as mayhem seems to be her preferred mantra. The current flashpoint is doctors. The next could be engineers and traders who are not bhumiputras on bikes. The lady has already said only Bengali speaking people can seek employment in her state. What next and what employment? The economy of the state has been run to the ground by the four-term Communist regime before Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC). Large business houses have been hounded out systematically. Most recently, she refused a national healthcare initiative. No reasons given, but not difficult to guess why she did so.
Banerjee’s diatribes against anyone who questions her would be laughable had it not been for where they come from – a place of rot and loss, fear and loathing. Predictably, the international media is calling the lady from Bengal a giant killer who brought down the Communists and now faces the wrath of the right-wing regime in Delhi. Sounds cute. A Bengal Tigress headline will presumably follow.
History teaches us to never underestimate the anger of a loser. I speak often of Adolf Hitler’s retreating armies in Europe who slashed and burnt as they marched backwards, nowhere to go. They are capable of committing unspeakable violence that democracies are yet to fight. There are also wonderful examples from Europe. I am thinking of true leadership shown by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev who had the option of rolling out the tanks, but allowed history’s fault lines to fall by agreeing to bring down the Berlin wall in 1989. The two Germanys united and the falling of the wall had a domino effect leading to the dismantling of autocratic regimes and dictatorships across Eastern Europe. Peace is a negotiated, lived and felt experience that Europe is still working on – there’s no one shoe fits all here.
In terms of impact – and impact only – the results of India’s last elections is no less massive than the falling of the Berlin wall. Something is happening in the country and neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s spectacular consolidation nor the Opposition’s pathetic disintegration can explain it. Yet. But one thing is certain. We all have to pull together and I have tried to write about it in an earlier column. The India we want will be one that will be negotiated with all of us taking part in the talks. You may read it here.
I grew up in erstwhile Bihar and visits to Calcutta were frequent. The Statesman was one of the newspapers I read while growing up and my political reading of the state at that time was smeared with violence wreaked by Charu Mazumdar of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and later the more murderous Naxalbari movement. I speak Bengali and am tuned into regional media. Language influences thinking and I can say with some degree of alarm that more than language is being murdered in the state.
In front of Ms. Banerjee is a wall, behind her is a crumbling political system of which healthcare is the latest victim. It’s a terrible thing to do. Underlying it all is a deep lack of faith and trust in everything she says and does. It’s not just in Bengal that India’s healthcare system is in dire straits.
If Banerjee truly cared, she would speak about India’s galloping double disease burden. From Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which include cancers, strokes and, mental illnesses. Government expenditure is only 1.4 per cent of the GDP, almost 40 percentage points below the European Union (EU), for example. The government has set a target to be 2.5 per cent by 2025, which is still insufficient but building a nation and driving a national dialogue is part of our responsibility in a democracy. Currently, the number of doctors per person is 7.76 while the WHO recommends 10 and we have 0.6 beds available per 1000 people with most concentrated in urban areas. We are also an ageing nation. Whatever data gathering capacities we have on public health needs massive strengthening, investments and direction.
Banerjee doesn’t care. Following what she has allowed to happen to doctors and patients, a penchant for violence is no longer just the problem. India has to move in to prevent what she’s trying to spread. We have to be worthy of our own vote. Anything less would mean we are beginning to fail ourselves where it hurts most.
(The views and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Republic TV/ Republic World/ ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd.)