Will health finally become a significant issue in the coming elections?
India is among the countries which spend peanuts on its healthcare sector. From many years, the private healthcare sector has been taking the burden off the shoulders of the government healthcare sector. Now that a pandemic has devastated our country, even the private sector is looking forward to some support from the government.
Health issues always get prominence in every election in India, but only in the manifesto of the political parties and not on the ground. All the political parties during pre-election rallies promise to enhance the health infrastructure of the country. However, its implementation on the ground rarely takes place.
Recently, the Election Commission of India announced the dates for the next assembly election in Bihar. According to a report from the Hindu, the state has the worst doctor-patient ratio and the least number of beds per patient and only one testing centre for 12 crore people. The report suggests that the state is clearly not ready to tackle the health crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the crippling state of Indian health infrastructure. The poor state of public hospitals and exorbitant state of the private hospitals revealed that health in India also is bifurcated based on how heavy one's pocket is. While the pandemic made people realise the importance of basic things like washing hands and necessity of sanitation, it also brought their attention to all the false promises the political parties do, especially on maintaining a good, affordable and accessible health infrastructure.
BJP led central government took the right decision to go under a complete lockdown in very early stages. But the lockdown turned out to be a complete failure. The basic purpose of the lockdown was to create health care infrastructure so that our country gets ready for fighting the pandemic. To our surprise, the government made every effort in collecting funds from the public, but when it came to investing the money for the right purposes, it failed terribly. In fact, the government straight away told its citizens that the fund is not a private entity and the details of the same can't be made public.
There are rumours that the Narendra Modi led government is going to use these funds for upcoming Bihar elections.
Now finally after many decades, our focus has shifted in the right direction, which is the health care sector. If we would have given heat to this important issue many years back instead of focusing on Ram mandir and whatnot, peoples life could have been saved and we would have been able to contain the pandemic.
BJP government has been playing its masterstroke of deviating from the important topics and misleading the public by making the least important issues their agenda for fighting elections.
Following are the highlights of BJP manifesto in 2014 Lok Sabha elections:
Health Assurance to all Indians - reducing out of pocket spending on health care
AIIMS-like institute in every state
Promote Yoga and Ayurveda - integrated courses, standardisation and validation
Pre-emptive care model - thrust on child health and prevention
School Health Program - health and hygiene part of the school curriculum
National eHealth Authority - the framework for leveraging telemedicine and mobile healthcare
Universalisation of emergency medical services - 108
Mission mode project to eradicate Malnutrition
Mission mode drive for Swachh Bharat by Gandhiji's 150th birth anniversary in 2019
Open defecation free India
If we look at the promises made by the BJP government, they have hardly fulfilled any. When the BJP-led NDA government came into power in 2014, four new AIIMs were announced, seven more in 2015 and two more in 2017.
The Times of India analysed 24 recurrent concerns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech in March. The defence has been the most highlighted of the 24 subjects. Health was down to 21st position. This shows how much the PM is concerned about the healthcare sector.
In 2019 Rahul Gandhi vowed to increase India's spending on its health care sector to three per cent of the total GDP. But unfortunately, his party did not come into power to make any such changes.
India spends just 1.6 per cent of its total GDP on the healthcare sector. If we compare this to other Asian countries which are less developed like Vietnam, it spends 6.6 per cent of its total GDP which they are planning to increase to 10.7 per cent by 2022.
Albeit, health care will become a very important issue in upcoming all the elections. Rest is dependent on how BJP government will try to escape these rising concerns and again deviate the public from such an important topic.
The idea to build a sympathy wave on a personality cult is nothing new in the Indian political arena. The technique is utilised in every Indian election to garner the votes. Even the public treats political leaders with personality cult such as Narendra Modi, Indira Gandhi, as the saviour of the country during its biggest crisis. When the country is currently grappled with multiple problems, including a border dispute with China, the biggest economic slump, and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is natural for followers to look at the saviour to guide the country during the challenging times. While personality cult, caste, and religion play a significant role in deciding elections, significant issues like health, education, infrastructure, and others always take a back seat. Thus, health can be an important issue for upcoming elections in India, but it will not have significant implications that can change the election results.