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Gorakhpur Tragedy

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Hegel once famously noted that “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only when the dusk has fallen.” Nothing would be truer than in the case of the recent infant deaths in the Baba Raghav Das hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh (UP). Low human development in the state is a well-known fact and was brought to light by Amartya Sen and Jean Drèze in two of their works India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity and Indian Development: Selected Regional Perspectives. In these works they have specifically pointed out the abysmal situation of neonatal mortality, infant mortality, maternal mortality, overall longevity and a host of other demographic indicators in UP, when compared to other states in general and South India in particular. Nothing has changed in UP so far as the human development and public health issues are concerned since Sen and Drèze wrote in 1996.

Who is to take responsibility for this? The first responsibility is that of thecurrent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The blame for the evolution of such a state of affairs is shared equally by the Congress party, Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). For Congress, it has been a useful backyard for its leaders to get elected. For the BJP, SP and BSP, the state has been ahotbed of identity politics. Caste, religion and identity have been the main sources of political mobilisation in UP. In engaging the public in such an emotionally loaded identity politics, all the parties have ignored the cautions provided by social scientists regarding its abysmal performance in improving public health, literacy and all the above-mentioned demographic indicators. The political terms of discourse in UP politics havealways been those of religious identity politics or caste identity politics. This has been the bane of UP. Sen and Drèzeindeed have pointed out in their books that there is a need for all states to learn positive lessons from the Kerala development experience.

The function of politics in the Indian context in general and in UP in particular is to set the terms of discourse that make governments work and citizens strive for basic minimum needs. Excessive identity politics detracts attention from the issues of public health, basic literacy, and issues such as maternal healthcare, neo-natal and infant mortality.

Gross negligence of primary health by all the successive governments in UP,including its earlier BJP governments has led to the current situation.

Sen and Drèze may have fallen out of favour with the current BJP government for vociferously championing the liberal middle ground and for goading the governments to change policies towards human development. UP’s “Burden of Inertia” both in terms of lack of any noteworthy policy to enhance human development from above and the callousness of its elite to engage in any form of public action regarding these, will lead us to ask in whose name is this democracy being run? Why not question the legitimacy of these political parties? When the party system fails, as utterly as it has in UP, to address the basic conditions, what is its legitimacy? Slowly but surely these questions will come to the fore. If UP or any other state does not ensure these basic conditions, of existence of ordinary people, the entire legitimacy of a democracy is questionable. It is high time that all political parties learned that symbolic politics and identity politics have serious limitations.

V Anil Kumar

Bengaluru

Updated On : 8th Sep, 2017

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