Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says that the Government intends to provide medical cover to almost half the Indian population, something on the lines of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. However, unlike the universal nature of the NHS, the ‘richer half’ must fend for itself.
But how sincere is the scheme and how practical is the Budget proclamation? Economists say that to provide an annual health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh for 50 crore citizens, the Centre would need Rs 50,000 crore every year. The Budget does not mention from where the Rs 50,000 crore for the scheme would come from. It’s just a noble idea at the moment.
The second hurdle for the health insurance plan would be effective implementation. As things stand, very few government servants process anything without harassing beneficiaries. How many people in administrative staff of government hospitals would diligently process applications of those needing emergency or intensive medical care without bribes? Then there is the question of fake claims hospitals may make to siphon off the money.
The problem with most government schemes are not the intentions but implementation hurdles. MGNREGA has brought relief to several thousands of people but many middlemen have exploited it to deny many more rightful claimants their money.
Once the Government finds the money for the scheme, let’s hope poor people who need treatment would only need to get themselves admitted to any hospital by flashing their BPL ration cards and the hospital would take care of all the paperwork, which would be regularly audited by the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s obsession with different irrelevant groupings of nations does not make sense. There was a time when such groups made sense. For example, the Non-Alignment Movement was a product of post-World War II realities. Many such associations have lost their relevance, for India in particular.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has not achieved anything and cannot be expected to achieve anything, except diplomatic dilemma each time a summit is held because prominent member nations do not see eye to eye on several issues. With India boycotting even sports ties with Pakistan, how can SAARC, of which the two are the most prominent members, achieve anything? Then there are irritants that India face from Nepal and Maldives because of their Chinese connections. Sri Lanka’s Tamilian genocide is another issue. SAARC cannot achieve anything that bilateral ties have not. It’s so redundant that India should work for its dismantling.
However, Modi has strange ideas and advisers. They told him to invite SAARC leaders for his swearing-in. Why did a democratically-elected leader of the world’s largest democracy need the endorsement of kings or heads of states where military coups happen regularly?
More than three years after his debut as PM, one would expect he would have learnt nuances of international ties and relevance of groupings. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There is no other conclusion one could draw after the last Republic Day.
The Association of South East Asian Nations has very little in common with India’s interest. None of them has the potential or the inclination to take on China. Vietnam hopes India can take up cudgels on its behalf by inviting Indian companies for oil exploration in the disputed territorial waters of the South China Sea. The Philippines is struggling with a leader who is no better than a gangster. It’s a protectorate of the United States and cannot be expected to do anything independently. Laos is an aid recipient but cannot offer even a strategic base in return. Cambodia and Indonesia are dealing with internal conflicts. Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei are nations with which India could further trade ties. But they are best done through bilateral deals. Myanmar is in the cusp of India and China, with whom Beijing has very good ties. However, skilful diplomacy can help India to stem the Rohingya refugee arrivals and fleeing of different guerrilla leaders of North-East to that nation.
Without South Korea or Japan, ASEAN is no economic powerhouse or in a position to intimidate China. Hosting all 10 leaders of these nations on Republic Day at best was a spectacle. May be it will not be easy for mandarins in the External Affairs Ministry to convince someone craving for recognition from just anyone that these things make no sense.
Rajasthan is one of the states on top of India’s tourist map. It goes without saying that law and order is the most important factor to facilitate tourism. But the Government of Vasundhara Raje had been fiddling for the past several months when Gau Rakshaks and Karni Sena set the state on fire.
The cynical explanation that some political experts gave was that Raje was in an election year and could not afford to take action against those who formed the core of her party’s support base.
Raje must be wondering now what more she must do to win the December assembly polls. In the Lok Sabha by-polls to Alwar and Ajmer, and one assembly by-poll, BJP has been routed. Congress’ victory margin and BJP’s loss in each of the assembly segment in Alwar and Ajmer must be of concern to the latter.
So, will Raje allow mobs to take over Rajasthan now, on the possible argument that her measures were half-hearted and angered the core constituency? Or, would she go by traditional wisdom that marauding mobs cannot keep anyone in power?
Reinventing The Wheel
Since 2014, the Modi Government has superficially tried to undo norms and traditions, possibly in the hope of entering the history books. There is no other logic why the Planning Commission was dismantled and another body called Niti Aayog created. Since black money has not been confiscated from anyone, demonetisation has to be seen as the ruler’s fetish to introduce oddly sized, coloured and denominated currency notes. Pink, greyish green, golden yellow notes for denominations such as 2000 and 200 have no sensible explanation.
Attempts to besmirch Nehru’s memory have not been limited to election speeches or invading a museum or university in his name. ‘Nehru Jackets’ had to be answered with ‘Modi Kurtas’. So let’s be thankful that the BJP Government’s idea of creating class by introducing saffron-coloured passports for labourers has been rolled back. I guess this is the first rollback of this government after the land-acquisition bill. It has been brazen in rolling out other weird measures. However, the saffron passport fiasco is unlikely to discourage a government that seems to believe in farce. May be one should expect a violet, triangled Rs 350 currency note next.
(Published on 05th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 06)