The doctors’ strike in West Bengal spreading nationally is a clear indication that events have spiralled out of control. The underlying politics could be ascribed as much to Mamata “Didi” Banerjee’s shrill reaction to a clear case of an assault on two doctors in a hospital by the kin of a patient as to the national ruling party, BJP, stirring it up for possible political gain in a State it has had an eye on. The West Bengal chief minister’s abrasive response to the incident that triggered the storm has bene exacerbated by her propensity to see everything through a prism of communal politics. Rattled by the inroads that BJP made into her Trinamul fortress in the Lok Sabha polls, Didi has taken it personally to the extent she sees a bogey at every turn. Her paranoia has exploded into a national issue now that threatens medical services. However, it puts the focus on the sensitive issue of doctors feeling threatened while doing what is only their duty.
The Indian Medical Association interceding in the West Bengal strike issue to make it national is clearly a play of politics. But the issue itself is important in the sense that doctors are often left to fend for themselves when they are unable to help patients whose condition may in any case be one of terminal illness. The links are obvious as doctors around the country are joining in right up to Monday even as the CM’s invitation for talks has been turned down by the doctors, and not without justification considering how Ms Banerjee has responded to the situation in not even having the event probed seriously, maybe because members of a particular community were the aggressors. The immediate way forward would be talks to resolve the doctor's genuine grievances over their vulnerability. The State must be seen providing reassurances as well as posting of security personnel in the bigger public and private hospitals to try and prevent such blowouts as patient kin reaction to deaths that may have been inevitable anyway.
Beyond the obvious political overtones and what can be done to defuse the situation, the focus should be on what can be done to make the doctors’ lot safer.
The first thing to do would be to bring in more stringent legislation. If air security is so strong now that a passenger making a bomb threat can be jailed for life for the first time in Indian history, why cannot there be a law that penalises anyone attacking doctors in a hospital? Such violence against a qualified person tending to people’s health and sickness is unacceptable. So too the vandalising of hospitals or clinics. The concerns of the medical fraternity cannot be lost sight of in this battle for Bengal between the Trinamul and the BJP. If legislation penalising violence against doctors is brought up during the coming Budget session of Parliament, it would be a sign that the suffering of doctors who have been viciously attacked will not have been in vain.