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Mamata Banerjee detached and BJP at play as Bengal doctors' protest continues

Chief minister silent, Abhishek’s statement and health secretary’s appeal fail to douse anger among doctors

By TT Bureau in Calcutta
  • Published 13.06.19, 7:28 AM
  • Updated 13.06.19, 7:30 AM
  • 2 mins read
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A mother with her child at NRS Medical College and Hospital on Wednesday. She waited in vain from morning till 4.30pm, when the child started convulsing. She ran inside the emergency unit but there was no one there to help. Police arranged a vehicle and asked the family to approach other hospitals Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Mamata Banerjee has uncharacteristically made her nephew and bureaucrats the public faces of healthcare crisis management, making doctors more indignant and emboldening the BJP to escalate its polarisation drive.

The first formal Trinamul Congress reaction to the brutal assault on doctors at NRS Medical College and Hospital came not from Mamata but Abhishek Banerjee, the chief of the party’s youth wing and Diamond Harbour MP.

“We condemn it (the assault) unequivocally…. It is painful,” Abhishek said, adding that the attackers would not be spared, the administration had already taken action and that poor patients are suffering because of the ongoing agitation by junior doctors.

However, in a still-unfolding emotive situation, attention stayed focused on how Abhishek fumbled more than once while referring to the name of an injured doctor — which was seen as a sign that the chief minister has delegated a relatively inexperienced leader to handle the situation.

In the evening, health secretary Rajiva Sinha issued an “appeal” to the junior doctors to call off the agitation, citing neglect of patient care and harassment of common people.

“An appeal is therefore made to the agitating junior doctors to immediately withdraw the agitation and get back to their duty restoring complete normalcy in providing this essential service to the citizens at the earliest,” Sinha’s statement said.

The dispassionate tone — a desirable skill while handling affairs of state but a liability while addressing delicate issues involving aggrieved people — appeared to have angered the doctors more.

A junior doctor said the language of the appeal came across “as a threat” and vowed to carry on with the agitation till the chief minister visits Paribaha Mukhopadhyay, the injured intern who is undergoing treatment at the Institute of Neurosciences in the city.

A measure of the deep resentment among doctors in general, not just juniors or those in government service, was on display on Wednesday when a protest in solidarity affected outpatient departments of many private hospitals.

The pitfalls of letting the issue fester became evident when three junior doctors and a fourth-year student of Burdwan Medical College and Hospital were injured in attacks by purported relatives of patients.

Trinamul insiders conceded the gesture by Abhishek was “too little, too late”.

“The key demand from the agitators was a statement from the chief minister. A statement — at least on Twitter — could have prevented this,” said a Trinamul leader. “We are hoping she would change her mind…. But we fear that the damage has already been done,” he said.

He wondered why Mamata did not seize the initiative on Tuesday itself and address the grievances of the doctors as she did when Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar’s bust was vandalised in May.

The BJP has sought to fill the vacuum. A day after BJP leader Mukul Roy blamed a community, state party chief Dilip Ghosh went a step further. Ghosh said the particular community was under police protection and he proceeded to name the community.

Asked why the party was singling out a community, he said: “It is the harsh truth of Bengal today.”

Ghosh appealed to doctors to call off the agitation immediately and asked the state government to ensure their safety.