Is BJP beyond all blame over Bihar’s AES fiasco?

Senior BJP leaders are heaping blame on CM Nitish Kumar for shoddy health facilities in Bihar, while one of their own, Health Minister Mangal Pandey, was caught inquiring about cricket score at a PC

Is BJP beyond all blame over Bihar’s AES fiasco?

Arun Srivastava/IPA

An intense cold war is going on inside the Bihar NDA. The BJP leadership which has been angry with Nitish Kumar for asserting his independence of late, have been using the death of children due to AES to malign him.

While the local BJP workers have been instigating the parents of the kids to protest against poor health services and raise their voices against Nitish, the senior BJP leaders have been maintaining distance from JD(U) leaders and ministers on this issue.

Surprisingly no JD(U) minister or leader visited the hospital or even accompanied the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan during his visit to the hospital a week back. The issue of protocol might have been there, but it certainly not prevented a JD(U) minister accompanying him. The only exception was JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak who visited the hospital on his own.

Senior JD(U) leaders nurse the feeling that BJP has not been sympathetic to Nitish. They point out that the health minister, Mangal Pandey, the former state BJP chief did not visit the hospital just after the breakout of AES also did activate the health services in the region. While hundreds of kids were dying due to AES he was on a foreign tour.

While visiting the hospital instead of monitoring the treatment to the kids, Pandey observed that the parents be made aware of the disease through an awareness campaign. At a time the doctors are bewildered of the nature of the disease and are groping about the mode of treatment and the medicine to be administered, Pandey was suggesting of launching an awareness campaign!

This reflected the utter of knowledge about healthcare and also the administrative bankruptcy of the minister. The crisis also exposed the lack of health facilities and also poor preparedness of the government in facing such challenges. Meanwhile, a case was filed against the Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan and his Bihar counterpart Mangal Pandey for 'failing to perform their duties' that led to the death of nearly 150 children in Muzaffarpur.

Not satisfied with the government's actions, both ministers while visiting hospital were faced with protests by the family members of the victims, who accused them of failing to act promptly.

Former Union Health Minister and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader C.P. Thakur did not mince words in accusing Nitish Kumar government of not taking adequate preventive measures against the deaths caused by encephalitis. He accused the Nitish administration of reacting slowly to the epidemic of AES.

He held: "Had they responded swiftly when the news of AES was first reported a few weeks ago, many lives would have been saved. The government is responsible for this tragedy and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar should have personally visited hospitals in Muzaffarpur to check on the patients instead of dispatching government officials".

It ought to be mentioned that Thakur has been studying and researching on kalazar and encephalitis for decades.

Relatives of the deceased kids had protested and raised slogans against Nitish when he visited the hospital a few days ago. People were more angry with the doctors for their failure to diagnose the decease. No doubt this crisis exposed the rot that has gripped the health services in the, their failure simply underlines the fact that the doctors did keep themselves abreast of latest deceases and medicinal developments.

Villagers were angry that the state government didn’t seem serious about the crisis, even as their children continued to die, and blamed the government for ignoring the plight of the poor. Most victims are impoverished and belong to ‘backward’ or ‘Dalit’ families, it is said.

Nitish had visited the hospital 17 days after the disease broke out in the region. He also announced compensation but it is yet to reach the victims’ parents. Some parents alleged that some fake people have been taking away the compensation money with the help of the officials. Parents insist “We don’t want monetary compensations for deaths of our children, we want eradication of this disease which has robbed happiness from hundreds of families.”

From the beginning the doctors have been indifferent to patients. Mother of a child alleged, “My child was referred to AIIMS in New Delhi when I admitted [him] for treatment at the local hospital. Please tell me how can a poor like me arrange for such huge money to rush there and spend on his treatment? I have already taken a loan of Rs 40,000 from villagers”.

Dr Harsh Vardhan during his visit reiterated the same assurances which he had given to the local poor in 2014. The lack of concern about the suffering children could be gauged from the simple incident that the minister Mangal Pandey was heard asking reporters of the scores in India’s cricket match against Pakistan during a press briefing.

In 2014, Harsh Vardhan had instructed to construct a 100-bed paediatric intensive care unit (ICU) in Muzaffarpur and also to set up five virology laboratories in different districts of Bihar.

Nevertheless a BJP leader quipped that the disease has close connections with four Gs’’ — gaon (village), garibi (poverty), gandagi (unhygienic conditions) and garmi (heat).

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