West Bengal doctors' stir is symptom of larger malaise; mass resignations show issue is beyond matter of security

Three hundred and counting; the mass resignation of doctors in West Bengal has thrown the state healthcare system into a tailspin. With more doctors threatening to resign unless security is beefed up for them — despite Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s warning of action if they fail to get back to work — it seems the situation is headed for a point of no return.

The protests began after several junior doctors were thrashed by a 200-odd mob in NRS Medical College and Hospital, when an 85-year-old patient died on Monday, apparently due to medical negligence. The situation deteriorated further on Friday, with doctors from the city’s NRS, IPGMER and SSKM Hospital, Calcutta Medical College, and RG Kar Medical College putting in their papers. Several hundred doctors might also follow them.

 West Bengal doctors stir is symptom of larger malaise; mass resignations show issue is beyond matter of security

Doctors held protests in several parts of India on Friday, demanding security at workplace. Reuters

From AIIMS to Gandhi Medical College in Secunderabad to KEM in Mumbai, doctors across the country have joined the protests. The issue now seems to have blown up beyond a simple matter of security and safety, into one of lack of faith in the administrative process and in the West Bengal government's unwillingness to address their fears. “We will all resign. We are not intimidated by threats of flunking in exams or being jobless,” a protesting junior doctor from Calcutta Medical College said, on the condition of anonymity.

Doctors in Delhi want the general public to view it as a spontaneous, non-political movement against the forces that threaten to destroy the doctor-patient trust, which affects the general fabric of the society. “The series of attacks against us is creating a sense of mistrust along with a depression in the morale and a healthy sense of community between different sections of the society,” said Anirban Hom Choudhuri, a professor at department of Anaesthesia and Critical Care at GIPMER.

What is perhaps more ominous for the West Bengal government is the willingness of the doctors to continue their agitation despite Mamata’s threat on Thursday of invoking ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act). “This is an outburst of accumulating grievances and anger precipitated due to long-time negligence of safety and security that the doctors have been demanding,” said political analyst Moidul Islam. He felt that recent poll reverses of the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) have emboldened the Bengal doctors to take to the streets, as they feel that the government is no longer in a position to browbeat or intimidate them, as the party is loosening its grip on the state.

Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor at Department of Political Science in Rabindra Bharati University, blamed the politicisation of the state’s healthcare system through Rogi Kalyan Samiti for the doctors’ resentment. “We had seen a similar political control by the Left Front government over every arm of executive functioning including healthcare in West Bengal. But Mamata Banerjee, instead of de-politicising the segment, has further added to the already existing woes by continuing with party control,” Chakraborty said. There is a yawning gap between demand for healthcare and availability of doctors and infrastructure in hospitals and healthcare, he pointed out.

Trinamool party leaders, on the other hand, are blaming the doctors for taking a stubborn stance.

On Thursday, Mamata had added fuel to fire by branding the striking doctors as ‘outsiders’ and attributing a political motive to the strike, at a time when the protesters were looking for some kind of assurance from the chief minister. They have now dug in their heels, as evidenced by Friday’s resignations.

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There have been discordant voices even within the TMC, with Shabba Hakim — the daughter of Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim — also a medical practitioner, siding with the protesters and declaring that she is deeply ashamed about the inaction of the Trinamool leadership.

The chief minister’s nephew, Abesh, led a march of junior doctors from KPC Medical College in Jadavpur to NRS Medical College, the seat of protest, to show solidarity with the doctors there. Mamata skirted controversy and referred to Abesh and Shabba as ‘children dictated by emotion’, but their actions must surely have caused unease in the party, even as Opposition leaders jubilantly declared that the firebrand leader was losing her grip over the party and the administration.

Signs are ominous for the Trinamool that the state is in urgent need of medical attention.

In the recent Lok Sabha election, the Trinamool trailed in 40 seats out of the total 42 in postal ballots — a sign that not only are government employees unhappy, they were showing their resentment at the hustings. Officials are aggrieved about their pending dearness allowance, the long delay in implementing the commission report and above all, the manner in which the diktats of party leaders determine their day in rural Bengal.

Updated Date: Jun 16, 2019 10:45:56 IST