Window on South Asia

Published:  12:23 AM, 15 June 2019

West Bengal in crisis

West Bengal in crisis

Once a peaceful land with successive stable governments ruling the state with efficient governance, seems to be now slipping into a state of disorder and rudderless. Mamata Banerji, the once popular Chief Minister, who is often credited with dislodging the long spells of communist rule, has today opened several fronts and finding it difficult to rein in forces opposed to her.

The latest problem is the ongoing strike of the doctors in West Bengal which is now spreading like an epidemic hitting New Delhi, Mumbai and other places and crucially threatening to assume pan Indian proportions. It began on Monday June 10 when a patient belonging to a particular community died in a local hospital (NR Sarkar medical college) amid allegations of neglect by the doctors.

It became a direct showdown between the medical fraternity and the patients' side leading to a brutal assault on two junior doctors. Infuriated by such attacks, the doctors struck work whose demand was the Chief Minister to come to the spot to address the problem. Given her temperamental attitude and inclination to confront than to strike a conciliatory note.

This allowed the situation to go adrift and today it's chaotic with striking doctors refusing to resume work and the CM threatening to arrest the doctors under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). Bengal with whatever name have never cowed down to such threats as it has a history of trade unionism and tenacity to fight the government.

More warnings from the government means more hardened stance towards the government. The attitude adopted is unfortunately of belligerence and aggression or at least appears on the face of it thus minimizing options for a rapprochement.

Mamata Banerji is still reeling under the BJP improving its tally in the last month's parliamentary elections clearly posing a real time threat to the existence of her Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Possibly, complacency and overconfidence on part of the Chief Minister is responsible for the cracks within the party with many switching loyalties at all levels including in the municipalities. Sources indicate more turncoats will emerge in not so distant future. Such political uncertainty on the cards, political statecraft would advise tact, calmness of mind and a mature approach to the ongoing medical strike. Instead, it has compounded problems.

As the entire medical community in West Bengal has closed ranks to take on the government on the assault issue, it looks as if it's now a personal fight between the CM Mamata Banerji and the doctors. The government and the CM are refusing to blink as thousands of under treatment patients continue to suffer and its spread in other metropolitan cities can see serious consequences.

West Bengal has witnessed communal disturbances in many parts of the state and the mischievous communalists are always on the lookout for an opportunity to ignite snowballing the situation to a major communal problem. This is equally a major challenge like saving the patients afflicted with malaises. CM also holds the health portfolio and, therefore, her responsibilities are double fold requiring an extraordinary attention. Today is the fourth day of the strike and as of now, there are no visible signs of de-escalation of the problem.

Politically, TMC appears to be on a weak wicket and health being a humanitarian issue , the strike perhaps has generated a wave of losing sympathy towards the ruling party. The polity also seems to be polarized with battle lines clearly drawn for a violent showdown. This is more because in the last few weeks, one saw the CM being provoked with slogans deemed unsavory to her and the BJP has stepped up its tirade against her and her party accusing them of pursuing an allegedly policy of appeasement towards a particular community .

Hence, a minor hospital problem has assumed an avoidable crisis like situation with grave proportions. Political pundits watching West Bengal reckon that the handling of the initial irritant on June 10, was marked with ineptitude with too much leeway to go out of hands.

Now a bold and clinical approach to the ongoing impasse seems the only way out. Making it a personal or a prestige issue is unlikely to serve the interests of those suffering in sweltering heat in the below par conditions of the government hospitals. They must be attended to without any further delay with a hawkish eye on the miscreants trying to disturb peace. It's a major challenge for the CM and shifting blame on her political adversaries will tantamount to an ostrich like attitude.

The writer is a freelancer covering issues of topical interest. Views expressed are personal

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