Kolkata: The unrest over the assault of doctors by truckloads of goons at the NRS Medical College and Hospital in Kolkata may have spelled the beginning of the end of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal.
The NRS incident on Monday night has snowballed into a major political crisis for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, with the doctors’ agitation against her not just confined to Bengal, but spreading all across the country. Medical services—except for emergency services—have come to a standstill in the state, with doctors striking work and hundreds of them resigning. And now the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has sent an advisory to the state asking it to improve the law and order situation and take steps to resume normal healthcare service. In the advisory the MHA has also mentioned that there is an increase in the number of incidents of political violence in Bengal from 2016 to 2019. In 2016, 559 political clashes were reported, while in 2019 the number increased to 773. The MHA also expressed deep concern over the rise of political violence in the state.
On Friday, the Calcutta High Court urged the state government to persuade the doctors on strike to join their duties. The Division Bench comprising Chief Justice T.B.N. Radhakrishnan and Justice Subhra Ghosh did not pass any interim order but urged the state government to mediate and find an amicable solution to the ongoing crisis.
Public opinion has turned against the TMC government decisively and rallies have started to be taken out, where even celebrities perceived to be close to Mamata Banerjee, such as Aparna Sen, have started participating. Others who have participated in these rallies include actor Kaushik Sen and social activist Dr Binayak Sen, apart from innumerable common people.
The children of TMC’s own leaders have come out in support of the agitating doctors.
One of the issues at the heart of the doctors’ agitation is the tussle over Mamata Banerjee’s unwillingness to visit the NRS, where the assault took place. Instead, she went to SSKM Hospital in another part of Kolkata and threatened the doctors of dire consequences if they did not join duty forthwith. She also described the agitators as “outsiders” backed by the Opposition parties, among other things. The doctors are now seeking her apology for the comments made. They also want her to visit NRS and talk to them, but in vain. On Saturday, Mamata Banerjee addressed a press conference where she appealed to the junior doctors to withdraw their strike. “I have sent my ministers, principal secretary to meet the doctors, waited for five hours to meet the doctors’ delegation on Friday and Saturday but they did not come. I think Nabanna (state Secretariat) is the best place to speak. You have to give respect to the Constitutional body. Already five people have been arrested for the incident that took place on Monday at NRS Medical College and Hospital,” she said.
According to the Chief Minister, a meeting was convened with the Chief Secretary, Health Secretary and police officials and it was decided that security would be increased in every state-run medical college. An Additional Commissioner rank police officer will be posted in every police outpost in state-run medical colleges. A security audit would be conducted in every medical college and hospital jointly by the state Health Department and the police within a week and necessary measures undertaken immediately thereafter to plug the loopholes and increase security.
Banerjee also said, “Many states have already implemented Essential Service Maintenance Act (ESMA) while doctors were on strike. Gujarat, Delhi, Manipur, Rajasthan had implemented ESMA. We have not implemented ESMA, neither have we arrested any doctor. We do not want to finish the careers of the doctors. They are our own students and I earnestly request the doctors to withdraw their strike.”
In fact, until Saturday evening Banerjee had not met even Paribaha Banerjee, who was grievously injured in the assault and instead sent Minister of State for Health, Chandrima Bhattacharya and Principal Secretary Health to meet him. She is also yet to visit NRS.
Until Saturday night doctors too were firm that they would not withdraw their strike until and unless the Chief Minister visited NRS and listened to their grievances.
Dr Sourav Dutta, a junior doctor, said, “We do not belong to any political party. We only want Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to come and speak sympathetically with the junior doctors on strike. We want to restore the medical services as soon as possible but she should first come to us.”
Even patients have started wondering why the CM is refusing to visit NRS. Kiran Bibi, the relative of a patient admitted at the ICU of NRS’ burn unit, said, “We feel that the Chief Minister should immediately visit the hospital and speak to the junior doctors. Here our patients are dying and she is saying doctors look after patients on the basis of their surnames. She is trying to give a political colour to the entire incident. Doctors are our God and she is trying to create anarchy in our state. We urge her to come to the hospital as soon as possible.”
On Saturday, Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi called up Banerjee again and urged her to speak to the students and resolve the crisis.
POST POLL VIOLENCE
Meanwhile post poll violence is continuing unabated in the state. At least 15 incidents of clashes between the TMC and BJP have been reported from different parts of the state after the declaration of Lok Sabha election results, where the BJP got 18 seats compared to TMC’s 22.
Earlier in the week, at least two, or more, BJP workers and one TMC worker were killed at clashes in Nyajat, in Sandeshkhali in Basirhat Lok Sabha constituency in North 24 Parganas district. As tension mounted, residents were forced to shift out of the area. On Saturday four people were arrested on this connection.
At Birbhum’s Nanoor a clash between BJP and TMC erupted over BJP putting up a road block over the arrest of two BJP workers. The BJP claimed that 11 of their people died in the clash, while TMC claimed that out of the 11, nine were their supporters.
All these incidents are reminiscent of the last days of the Left Front rule in Bengal when anarchy gripped the state and one incident after another—from death by police firing in Nandigram and Maoist violence in Jangalmahal to a farmers’ agitation against land acquisition in Singur—hastened the downfall of the Left Front government.
As the state goes down a slippery slope, people have started wondering if this is the beginning of the end of Mamata Banerjee government.