Integrated development, politics and social empowerment in India and beyond

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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

So the Shiv Sena had to eat humble pie with “My Name Is Khan” being released in theatres in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and elsewhere as scheduled. The Sena and its ilk are essentially cowardly thugs who have grown larger than life over the years owing to the disgraceful pusillanimity of successive governments.

When Will They Ever Learn?

It is time the government stood up to the Shiv Sena’s hooliganism and said “No.” The movie My Name is Khan screened despite the threats, and rightly so.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 15 February, 2010

So the Shiv Sena had to eat humble pie with “My Name Is Khan” being released in theatres in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and elsewhere as scheduled. The Sena and its ilk are essentially cowardly thugs who have grown larger than life over the years owing to the disgraceful pusillanimity of successive governments. They have repeatedly and consistently been granted immunity from the law despite grave provocation to life, limb, property and public order. This license has fostered the notion that they can act with impunity, unafraid of consequences and that authority will bow to their goondagiri and crass nativism.

It was bizarre that the Shiv Sena should want Sharukh Khan to apologise for stating that Pakistani cricketers be allowed to play in India, a stray remark made after no team, including his own, bid for any Pakistani player at the recent IPCL auction. SKR merely repeated what the Union Home Minister and millions of others said after the gratuitous insult to Pakistani players who were rejected after being invited to compete in the bid. Beyond cricket, the Sena’s charge is that Pakistanis are unregenerate terrorists and cannot play in Mumbai as their government has done little to dismantle the infrastructure of terror after 26.11. If therefore SKR did not apologise for insulting Mumbai, then he could go to Pakistan and not be allowed to make money in the city through his film!

These non sequiturs betray a warped mind. Sena MLAs found supporting their street agitators threatening mayhem were infuriated when their security was withdrawn. It is amazing that the State should provide protection to habitual enemies of harmony and public order. It is not enough that the multiplexes screening the SKR film in Mumbai received strong protection - at huge public cost. Those who repeatedly inspire and orchestrate such criminal intimidation, social terror and vandalism must be indicted, including the top leadership who get away scot free. Governments must govern or get out.

Even while the Shiv Sena was stirring the pot, the Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, kowtowed before Bal Thackeray to allow Australian players to participate in IPCL matches in Mumbai (in the wake of indignation over recurrent attacks on Indian students in Australia, another sorry episode where jingoism is being allowed to overwhelm reason). The NCP leader, having done little for either Indian agriculture or cricket, had no compunction about compromising the Government he serves. Maybe he wished to signal that he can force a regime change in Maharashra. Fortunately the RSS and BJP have on this occasion acted wisely in distancing themselves from the Sena’s rabble rousing.

Other Union Ministers too having been acting out of turn. Mamta Bannerjee, is more often than not absent from cabinet meetings as she has “important work” to attend to in West Bengal. This is her way of avoiding responsibility for hard decisions that governance often involves, though at other times she has publicly criticized official policy. This sort of rank political indiscipline has been tolerated too long.

Again, the Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, was clearly out of court in publicly criticizing the J&K Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah’s proposal that youth who had crossed the LOC to PAK but now wished to turn over a new leaf and return home should be allowed back, trained in new avocations and rehabilitated. If there are doubts about the wisdom of such a policy or the modalities proposed, surely these can be pursued through appropriate channels and not by bad-mouthing it in the marketplace at a time when the Centre and State are delicately engaged in finding a satisfactory and early resolution of the J&K problem. By queering the pitch, Azad has given a handle to spoilers waiting in the wings.

At a different level, we have the spectacle of Meghalaya rejoicing in four persons holding the rank and status of chief minister. Even though only one chief minister enjoys the executive power that goes with the office, inflating egos to win support casts a burden on the exchequer and can only be a matter for derision and scorn. Other states too have appointed heads of committees and corporations with ministerial rank, bodyguards and cars with flashing beacons and screaming sirens.

More dangerous is allowing sub-caste or khap panchayats to police outworn social mores and caste conventions and annul marriages within the same gotra, as recently happened in Haryana when bride and groom were declared brother and sister and compelled to live apart. Fortunately the bride, now a young mother, filed an FIR and spiritedly pursued the case, causing the khap panchayat to back down. Can such matters be allowed to rest? Should not the offending khap panchayat be prosecuted under the law so that this sort of private caste justice, honour killings and so on do not flourish. Leaving social reform to social pressures alone is simply not enough. If India is to grow as a modern, harmonious, rational society, the law must play its part.

Take another issue. Health precedes medicine. Yet we, as a country, have too much medicine for the few and too little health for the great many. This is not merely iniquitous but economically unviable. Medical degrees these days increasingly lead on to specialization whose practice is so rarified that it requires large batteries of specialists and consultants, expensive equipment and a cornucopia of drugs to treat those who can pay. Public and community medicine and preventive health are not favoured streams as they bring relatively little money or fame. The GP, once the mainstay of the medical system, has disappeared. To bridge the widening gulf, the Government is sensibly considering introducing a new undergraduate course to create a cadre of essentially rural doctors drawn from small towns and rural areas.

This has evoked strong opposition from elements within the Indian Medical Association against the supposed creation of a parallel “second grade” system that could lead to quackery. But much advanced medicine approximates quackery, with patients asked to fork out vast sums for unnecessary tests and procedures and for avoidable and, sometimes, even harmful drugs. The proposed scheme has been tried out in some states like Chattisgarh and there could be problems and issues that need to be debated. But the kind of unbridled opposition witnessed suggests elite arrogance and a mercenary approach to simple health care. Andhra plans to compel medical graduates to do a year’s rural internship This would be a useful but insufficient measure as these doctors would move to cities just as they get acclimatised to rural health practice. Hopefully the Centre will stand firm, making such mid-course corrections as may appear necessary in the light of experience.

Meanwhile, the state of health of the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, once a model of excellence, can only cause deep dismay. The political interference and resultant mismanagement there has led to the latest exodus of the best and brightest doctors.

When will they ever learn?

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