Is Dr KC A True Satyagrahi?
Ritu Raj Subedi
Some weeks ago this scribe had visited the Bir Hospital for medical check-ups. Known as the ‘hospital of the poor,’ the Bir was bursting at the seams. There was a maddening rush of patients. They were in a hurry to get the appointment of doctors. Many of them were standing in long queues to get OPD tickets while some others were jostling with each other in the cash counter. The crowded scene gave a clear indication that the oldest medical centre has fallen short of necessary infrastructure and human resources and is struggling to cater health services to the people.
As this pen-pusher reached the first floor of the hospital, he met with a popular comedian Sitaram Kattel aka Dhurmus, who was supervising the painting and renovation works there. He was greeting anyone who approached him. “The painting and repairing works are taking place on war footing; we will finish the works within a month,” he said in response to my query. The Health Ministry had asked Dhurmus to oversee the facelift works of the hospital. Dhurmus, who was himself involved in painting the walls of the hospital, was happy to contribute to refurbishing the hospital that wore a shabby look for years.
But the idea of employing the popular actor for renovation of the hospital poses a serious question – Can’t the Health Ministry itself carry out this simple work? Should it cash in on the craze of a popular artiste just to paint the walls of a hospital? The government allocates a huge amount of budget for the health sector, let alone the foreign aid. This is an obvious example of how our state institutions have become dysfunctional and even the government has started to search for a ‘saviour’ in public figures to fix the problems.
Not only this, the public institutions and enterprises have been weakened or destroyed thanks to the neo-liberal policy that the Nepali Congress-led government implemented after it formed the government in the early 1990s. On a whim of free market economy, the NC government reduced the role of the state and handed the responsibility to private sector for running industries, colleges, schools, hospitals and other public utilities. As the nation has not witnessed the evolution of national capitalism at the desired level, it is the reckless profiteers, and comprador and rent-seeking classes, who made commercial hay out of the privatisation policies. The chronic problems facing the public sector are unlikely to be sorted out until the country addresses the inherent structural flaws.
And the ongoing 15th round of Dr Govinda KC’s hunger strike does not solve the fundamental questions roiling the medical sector as it has sadly taken political colour, and risks serving the interest of saboteurs who do not want to see Nepal heading on the steady path of stability and development. Some of his demands seek reforms in the health sector in favour of commoners. But they appear to be politically motivated and benefit a handful of investors that run the medical colleges in the Kathmandu Valley.
One of his important demands, as recommended by the Mathema report, is that the government not issue permit to open new medical colleges in the Kathmandu Valley for the next 10 years. Such colleges should be established in the rural areas, the report notes. This sounds good and idealistic but at the same time it is contradictory. The country has adopted open-up policy that allows all to run their business in line with the existing laws and regulations. What about those who have already built infrastructure worth billions of rupees after securing the letter of intent from the government? The country does not incur losses if the new colleges are allowed to run by enforcing stringent measures and standards.
Dr KC’s satyagrah has turned out to be a political campaign for opposition NC and other fringe forces that were rejected by the popular vote. After selling ‘health’ and ‘education’ of people to the comprador classes, the NC is going to egg on the frail doctor to secure political mileage that shows the height of opportunism and hypocrisy of the ‘oldest democratic party.’ Dr KC had staged several hunger strikes during the period of NC-led government but it never bothered to meet his demands.
Now Dr KC has become a divisive and partisan figure. His loyalists see him as a medical messiah but his critics are pointing fingers at his motive. They claim that economic and political interest has crept into KC’s strike. Currently, there are 18 medical colleges in operation. It is said investors close to NC have invested in 15 medical colleges. His opponents claim that Dr KC wants to protect the business interest of these medical colleges since he is himself an NC supporter. They also accuse him of starting his satyagrah only after the government started the process to grant affiliation to Manamoham Medical College, which is being operated in cooperative model by the UML leaders and supporters.
Dr KC argues that as the old medical colleges lack basic infrastructures and human resources, it is not wise to allow more colleges to operate in the valley. Then, here is a pertinent question: Why does he not launch his crusade to press these colleges to provide quality and affordable services to the people? Should they be allowed to fleece the patients by means of rickety infrastructure and poor medical services?
Dr KC has breached the basic norms of satyagrah, too. Apparently, he has resorted to peaceful form of protest. Still, he has adopted a questionable approach: the end justifies the means. Mahatma Gandhi, a pioneer of modern satyagrah, had emphasised that the means to attain the ends should also be scrupulous. For Gandhi, ethical norms should be at the centre of civic disobedience but Dr KC has undermined this Gandhian moral standard. As a government employee, Dr KC pockets the tax payers’ money and goes on staging hunger strike in the premises of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital ad hominem. To have the moral high ground, he should quit the post and go for the non-violent resistance. A true physician can’t be a professional agitator all the time.
The hospital belongs to the basic service sector where no strike is allowed according to the law of land. Violating the law, he had staged hunger strike for a total of 165 days in the premises of TUTH, causing fiscal and humanitarian costs. The hospital sources said his stir incurred around Rs 410 million. But humanitarian losses are greater than this. His orthopedic department is now in disarray with the patients forced to wait for at least six months for surgical operation. During the strike, KC’s supporters snatched saline water from patients and kicked them out of bed. Sometime ago former hospital director Dr Bhagawan Koirala disclosed that he was compelled to resign from the post owing to the ‘highhandedness of KC and his supporters’. A doctor’s main duty is to serve the patients but when they themselves get involved in illegal strike, how can they live up to medical ethics and profession? This scribe suggests Dr KC to follow the method of anti-corruption icon Anna Hazare and picket in an open place so that patients from the far-flung parts of the country do not undergo harrowing experiences at the TUTH and other hospitals.
Dr KC sees red and immediately goes for the hunger strike whenever there is a process to grant affiliation to the Manamohan Medical College. At the same time, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli should not bet his glowing and glorious political career on a medical hospital being run by his comrades. Even if the Manamohan Hospital has a good intention of serving the people, it ill behoves the communist party and leaders to operate a hospital as profit-making venture. Such a medical centre serves only the group interest, not the masses. It is probably the very party leaders and cadres will get concessions from this hospital, and alienate the people. How can they achieve the socialist goal by operating their own hospital and ignoring the public medical centres? The CPN-led government should take its cue from Cuba that offers the world-class health services to its citizens. It is better the communist government invests to enhance the capacity of state-run hospitals, such as Bir and those running in villages so that it will be able to provide quality basic health services to the people as spelt out in the new constitution.