Friday, May 09, 2008

Anbu gets the Supreme Slap. Good!

On Thursday morning, newspapers carried a report about how India fell behind strife-torn countries like Ghana and Eritrea in providing healthcare to children. It was a tight slap on our long-held claim to being an emerging superpower. Consecutive governments have allotted meagre amounts to healthcare, especially rural healthcare, and watched as even that was palmed off by middlemen, corrupt officials and politicians. In urban areas, healthcare is dominated by private hospitals and is increasingly becoming out of reach of even the middle classes.

It is in such delicate times that a man called Anbumani Ramadoss took over as Health Minister and his publicity gimmicks scared the nation. Instead of ensuring spread of affordable healthcare to every individual, he went after individuals like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan because they smoked or drank or ate potato chips on screen. These were rubbished by all as antics of a desperate publicity seeker. But his one act of rank assholism shall remain etched in history as the man almost caused a conflict between Parliament and the Supreme Court. Thank the Supreme Court.

On Thursday morning, India thanked God for the Supreme Court as its judgment on Dr P. Venugopal, the sacked director of AIIMS, signified more than just his reinstatement in the director’s chair. It showed that if one wayward, parochial, prejudiced and anal-retentive politician can force the ruling coalition to bring in a law to remove a doctor from his chair, then the courts, and our Constitution, can stand by a man who might seem too weak to take on a government. It signified that one pillar of democracy cannot behave like it owns the building.

It is not necessary to love P. Venugopal and side with him in this case. It’s not necessary to hate Ramadoss either. But the sad facts of this sordid drama show that the egotist minister wanted Venugopal out at any cost. He did not even wait till the courts gave their verdict. Fearing the judicial verdict may go in Venugopal’s favour, he brought in a bill in Parliament. The bill was passed because the ruling coalition did not want to embarrass itself by not voting for it. The President signed it late in the evening and in two hours, he removed Venugopal from his chair. Barely months before the cardiac surgeon was to retire, the minister defenestrated him.

Complaining about brain drain is all fine, but if this is the way we treat icons, and professionally Dr Venugopal is certainly an icon, we should just forget about doctors staying on in public hospitals. Dr Venugopal’s hostility towards Ramadoss is understandable because Ramadoss had brought the Tamil Nadu caste war to the heart of India’s premier medical institutions. Dr Venugopal’s overt and covert support to the anti-quota resident doctors widened the rift. What was plain shameful was the distance Ramadoss was ready to go in this battle. Thursday’s judgment shows he went a little too far.

No comments: