Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, in line with other Congress party critics like Mani Shankar Iyer and Randeep Surjewala, has been strident in criticism of any and every action of the BJP. While one can understand the dharma of the opposition party is to oppose the ruling party’s efforts, such a no-holds-barred attitude bodes ill for democracy.
In the early 1970s, such an attitude adopted by the opposition increased the chasm between the government and opposition. It hardened positions on either side and culminated in the Emergency. Sadly, such a tragic widening of differences is witnessed today with opposition arraigned to be critical of the government. Media, especially electronic news TV, also exacerbates this attitude.
Parented by UPA, abandoned by UPA
Just look at several beneficial propositions of the UPA government like Aadhaar or the GST: the UPA was eloquent and extremely convincing on these schemes and advocated these with passion. It is true that BJP opposed these at that time, but understanding the benefits of these, the NDA government has been quick in appreciating the merits of these. But Congress spokespersons are critical. In a democracy with major political parties slated to alternate in positions of power, there is a need for consensus on fundamental development issues and be constructive in approach.
Look at the ‘jumla’ tirade of P Chidambaram, pursued by other Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi on the healthcare scheme proposed in the budget. This scheme is a game-changer. It proposes offering health cover for 10 crore families; that means 50 crore of the population, up to Rs. 5 lakh each. Such a scheme on a lower scale has been successfully implemented by the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu governments for over eight years. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Scheme offers up to Rs 2.30 lakh covering over 100 surgeries for listed ailments to benefit over 4 crore or nearly 60 per cent of the state’s population. Over 19 lakh have already availed these benefits. It was the brainchild of V Jagannathan, a former CMD of United India Insurance, who subsequently promoted the 100 per cent health insurance company, Star Health Insurance. Later this was adopted by G Srinivasan of United India Insurance. The charges for different surgeries have been standardised for the participating hospitals that include leaders in the private sector like Apollo.
2-minutes of glory
The Maggie-type of 2-minute responses and reactions expected by the electronic media stretches response to absurd limits. This weighty game-changing measure requires time to study and respond. But one found Chidambaram and Co., instantly attacking the proposal. Surprisingly, of the dozens of ‘experts,’ very few were aware of the successful implementation of such a healthcare policy in Tamil Nadu. I sent a note to Prannoy Roy of NDTV on 1 February and found some corrections in the evening discussions.
Extrapolating the premium of Tamil Nadu of around Rs 1200 crore, for implementing the scheme covering over 4.5 crore providing up to Rs 2.30 lakh for each surgery, the coverage to 50 crore at Rs 5 lakh cover each would work out to around Rs 35,000 crore. With such large numbers, per capita, the premium might fall. Of course, the nuts and bolts on the number of morbidities to be covered, the cost of insurance needs to be worked.
Ofcourse, Chidambaram should be familiar with the jumlas which he performed in the nine years as finance minister. The ultra mega power project scheme introduced by the Manmohan Singh government in 2005 was a brilliant concept but was absurd in stipulating a low fixed price for 20 long years. Reliance Infra and others won bids on such promises but retracted with the first bout of coal price increase. After nine years, just one of the projects sanctioned to Tata Power at Mundra started functioning. Even this is suffering monetary losses due to the fixed price commitment. Thus there should be no surprises over jumla shows by Chidambaram.