KC’s Satyagraha, Medical Reforms & Democratic Order
Ritu Raj Subedi
The government has shown its prudence and wisdom by addressing the demands of Dr Govinda KC. It succeeded to avert further confrontations in the streets that some forces wanted by abusing the fast-onto-death of a frail doctor. Dr KC’s hunger strike had posed a moral dilemma to the communist government that has faced challenges from domestic and foreign agencies overtly or otherwise. Opposition Nepali Congress tried to convert Dr KC’s stayagrah into a nationwide agitation against the government. How rational was it to launch the nationwide movement to meet Dr KC’s demands as there exist legitimate institutions and procedures to deal with them? Dr KC had staged such a hunger strike seven times during the time of NC-led government. But it failed to demonstrate political will and gust to fulfill his demands. Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government had tabled an ordinance related to the medical bill on the eve of election. The move was seemingly motivated by ‘politics of vote’. The fringe parties, such as Sajha Bibeksheel Party and Naya Shakti also jumped on the bandwagon to gain political mileage. But, with the 9-point agreement between Dr KC and government, they have lost some sellable agenda for the moment.
In fact, there was no reason for the ‘socialist’ government to disagree on KC’s demands, seeking reform in medical education. The worrisome factor was that his hunger strike could be turned into political weapon to bludgeon the government that is trying to find its feet. As the constitution has defined health and education as the citizens’ fundamental rights, the left government should take drastic steps to ensure that the common people get affordable medical education and services based on its poll manifesto. The agreement, reached between the two sides, should not only be strictly implemented but needs to be used for greater reforms in health and education sector. This can be a ‘course correction’ bid to take back ‘health’ and ‘education’ from the hands of profiteers and mafias that flourished under the market and neo-liberal policies adopted by the NC-led government in the early 90s. The Mathema report has also suggested that health and education sector should not be left in the hands of freewheeling market.
Even the 1990 constitution that was drafted under the guidance of late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Madan Bhandari and king Birendra had oodles of democratic socialist contents. The political parties could live up to the constitutional provisions in the broader interest of the populace. Contrary to the spirit of constitution, the NC-led government introduced privatization and pro-market economic schemes in line with the Washington Consensus. It applies shock therapy to implement the privatisation policy. As a result, public enterprises were sold at dirt-cheap price. Health and education went in the hands of comprador classes. Both sectors are now beyond the reach of poor people. The neo-liberal policies vitiated the state, giving rise to massive public disappointment and disillusionment with the government and political system.
Seen from larger perspective, Dr KC’s hunger strike hardly digs into the fundamental problems of health sector. He should have voiced for the greater role of government in providing health and education to the people. There should have been stronger provisions for the regulation of private medical colleges and hospitals so that they wouldn’t fleece the poor patients who come from remote parts of country. It is true that medical colleges should not be allowed to concentrate only in the Kathmandu Valley. But here is a pertinent question - who will go to open medical colleges outside the valley or remote areas if there is no guarantee of profit for the investors? Unlike the government, the private medical colleges are not driven by service-orientated feelings. For the expansion of medical education to other parts of nation, there must be fulfillment of basic infrastructural requirements - road, transport, electricity, drinking water, internet, competent teachers, geographical accessibility, proper management and most importantly - reliable investors. In the absence of these elements, the medical colleges do not run smoothly. Neither will they produce competent doctors. Look at the Janaki Medical College in Janakpur. It is in total disarray with students left in the lurch owing to the deteriorating financial condition and unstable management of the college.
In the final analysis, we need a strong state, stable and responsive government, functional democratic order, honest political parties, civil society and media, and conscious citizens in order to pursue effective pro-people reforms. Rule of law is the cornerstone of democracy. Mobocracy and violence have no space in democracy. We witnessed disgusting scenes in course of the agitation in support of KC. Some elements tried to turn it into violent event to vilify the government. In a more bizarre case, a saffron-clad human rights activist challenged to topple the government in case Dr KC’s demands were not addressed. A former chief justice threatened to ‘set the entire country on fire’ for the same reason. These are nauseatingly irresponsible remarks from responsible persons. This is a brazen mockery of both rule of law and essence of Satyagrah. And rule of law and democratic peace must not be sacrificed in the name staging Satyagrah.
Satyagrah is a peaceful means of protest. Satyagrahis resort to civic disobedience when the people sitting in the corridors of power turn a deaf ear to the pleas and plight of the people. When the genuine demands of Satyagrahis are met, it is the gain of all, not only particular party or government. In forging the 9-point deal, both sides secured win-win position. Dr KC finally accepted the supremacy of parliament after he dropped the demand that Medical Education Bill be withdrawn from the House. The government took him into confidence that his demands will be incorporated in the Bill that will be endorsed by the parliament. At the same time, the Oli government listened to the voice of KC and refused to employ ‘tyranny of majority’ to dismiss his demands. This debunks the accusation that the communist government is heading for an authoritarian rule. The entire episode of KC’s hunger strike is a stark reminder that the parliament may lose its political and moral weight if it fails to enact pro-people and patriotic laws and regulations.