As chief minister, Digvijay Singh did not keep a single department with him while distributing portfolios among his ministerial colleagues. “I am a chief minister without a portfolio,” he would proclaim proudly, claiming that his role was limited to “supervision and co-ordination”. He flaunted the “ultimate” sacrifice of power for the sake of decentralisation.
But in reality nothing would move in the Government without Digvijay Singh’s permission. The CM was without a portfolio but controlled everything with the help of his omnipotent secretariat. I have seen MLAs touching feet of one of his secretaries before taking oath as a minister of Digvijay government. Everything revolved around the CM and his secretariat.
History repeats itself, said Marx, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. We are witnessing a situation in Madhya Pradesh, again, where everything revolves around the chief minister and his powerful and ever-growing secretariat.
In a gruesome incident this week, rats gnawed at the corpse of a destitute woman in the premises of Hamidia Hospital, a Government facility at Bhopal. The rodents ate parts of the corpse. It made headlines in newspapers that pointed out that destitute people were routinely refused medical facility at the hospital. But nothing moved in the Government. Enquiries were, of course ordered and officials amused themselves by playing blame-game. But no one tried to look into the ailing health care system, which promises, at least on paper, free treatment and medicines to poor.
So it fell upon Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to make a surprise inspection of the hospital. In his 20 minute stay he came face to face with pathetic condition at Hamidia Hospital, lost his cool and shifted an Additional Chief Secretary, who was in charge of medical education department, and the Dean of Gandhi Medical College that supervises the hospital.
Fire fighting followed and 18 destitute patients, camping outside the hospital —- left there to die —- were moved to wards. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation pressed its sanitation staff into service to clean the hospital. There were also brave talks about cancelling the sanitation contract of the hospital, given to a BJP leader. Jumping into the bandwagon, MP Human Rights Commission, which has become, like many similar commissions, a sanctuary for out-of-job bureaucrats and police officers, took sue moto cognizance of the case. Chouhan earned eternal gratitude of millions of poor who are dependent upon government healthcare system.
But, should it need a chief minister to carry out tasks that normally medical education department or its minister should have done? Are his officers, whom he praises as “India’s best bureaucracy”, incompetent? Are his ministers oblivious to things happening under their noses? Is not it a sign of the system’s collapse?
It is not the first time that medical education department has been exposed for sheer inefficiency. Just three months ago it was in the eye of a storm for unprecedented fiasco over admissions to private and government medical colleges. It was a thoroughly mismanaged affair, with authorities struggling for weeks to provide 1,400 admissions to just 10,000 candidates. They missed the deadline fixed for counselling that was mired in chaos, confusion and bedlam. There were scandalous stories of servers crashing, hacking of websites, students’ names mysteriously disappearing from lists and last minute changes in software. It was alleged that admissions were intentionally mismanage to favour some private colleges. But those at the helm refused to act despite these clear signs of a scandal in the making.
Chouhan has emerged powerful because he is the sole vote-catcher of BJP, pan Madhya Pradesh. The party has come to depend upon him so much that his services are required to win even a municipal election. Things have come to such a pass that Chouhan is required everywhere. His face was required to brave angry citizens when 78 innocent people got killed in a blast that occurred due to government carelessness at Petlawad. His hand was required to restore tents that blew away and roads that caved in a storm, exposing shoddy work at Ujjain Simhastha. His voice was required to soothe the restive crowd at mismanaged rally at Bhopal.
MP Government is set to observe December 25, the birthday of first BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as good governance day. Governance in MP is besieged by knee-jerk response to any unexpected development. The government forgets lessons of past tragedies once fire fighting operation is over. Collapse of a system is certainly not sign of good governance. Had the government acted earlier to arrest the all-visible rot in healthcare system, the tragedy at Hamidia Hospital could have been avoided.
(The writer is a senior journalist. On Twitter @nksexpress.)