Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot appears to be fighting hard to defend the death of 106 infants in a government-run hospital in Kota as rival parties seize the opportunity to target the Congress government just days before panchayat elections.
A political war has broken out over the death of more than 100 infants in a government hospital in Rajasthan's Kota with the BJP and the BSP, whose six MLAs recently deserted the party to join the ruling Congress, targeting Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka for doing politics on the CAA issue rather than empathising with mothers of the dead infants in the desert state.
The BJP's so-called attempt to shift public attention from the on-going CAA protests to the shocking infant deaths in Kota also seem part of the party's strategy to paint the ruling Congress in black just before panchayat elections that are being held in three phases this month. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, on his part, has countered attacks on his government by claiming that Opposition parties are raising the Kota hospital deaths to deflect attention from the nation-wide CAA agitation, but they would not succeed in changing the narrative.
As Sonia Gandhi and Priyanka lead the Congress charge against the BJP-led Central government's CAA move, the BJP has fielded its saffron-clad Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath to launch counter-attack on the Congress. Adityanath, whose state is caught in the CAA cross hairs following the 19 deaths in alleged police firing over protesters, has hit out at the Congress government in Rajasthan and its failure to save the lives of 106 infants who lost the race to live in Kota hospital.
With his stinging criticism of Priyanka over her alleged silence over infant deaths in Rajasthan, Yogi appeared to be firing a fresh salvo against the Congress leader who has dragged the UP CM into a dirty Twitter war over her allegations of excessive use of force by the UP Police against CAA activists – many of whom were branded as alleged supporters of Popular Front of India (PFI) which is an extremist and militant Islamic fundamentalist organisation.
Adityanath, who is expected to soon campaign in Rajasthan ahead of the panchayat elections, appears to have jumped into the political boxing ring to settle scores with bigwigs of the Congress, especially Priyanka, which had blasted his government for death of over 60 infants in Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College Hospital in 2017.
Taking to social media, the UP CM said, "The death of 100 innocent children in Kota is extremely saddening and heart-wrenching. The death of children is a blot on a civilised society, human values and feelings."
He gave a political twist to the tragedy by adding, "It is extremely sad that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, despite being women, are not able to understand the sorrow of mothers."
Forced on the back foot by Kota deaths, Gehlot took to fire fighting and denied any negligence behind infant deaths. A state government's committee which probed the spurt in deaths in the state-run JK Lon hospital in Kota claimed that most of the victims were at higher risk due to pre-term birth or were referred to the state-run hospital from other institutes.
Gehlot's stout defence of Kota hospital doctors is in tune with his party's political compulsion to bury the controversy as early as possible to avoid embarrassment in the panchayat poll campaign. The CM said the Opposition is indulging in politics over deaths. “The government is sensitive to the issue of death of sick infants at the Kota hospital and would try to reduce infant mortality at this hospital further. It is our top priority that mothers and children remain in good health," Gehlot tweeted.
In another tweet, the Chief Minister said: “I telephoned Central Health Minister @drharshvardhan ji and requested him to visit #Kota personally so that he can see the best of facilities and proper management by State Health Department and get himself apprised of the facts."
He also launched a counter-attack on the BJP saying the desperation being shown by the saffron party to hold public meetings to explain the details of CAA shows that it has erred in enacting the law.
BSP supremo Mayawati questioned Congress general secretary Priyanka over her "silence" on the Kota hospital deaths and demanded that Gehlot should be sacked for the mass deaths in hospital.
"Gehlot's irresponsible and unsympathetic statements over the deaths are highly shameful," Mayawati said in a tweet.
Mayawati said top Congress leaders, especially Priyanka, are maintaining silence over the deaths in Kota but are more than eager to meet victims of violence during the anti-CAA protests in UP.
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and BJP Rajasthan president Satish Poonia accused the Gehlot government of not showing seriousness in dealing with infants' deaths. “A delegation of BJP MPs had met the families which lost their children. They were in deep anguish. If the government is not sensitive, then it is worrisome," Poonia said, pointing to a state government report indicating that some of the incubators at the Kota hospital used for newborns were not in proper working condition.
As politics over the Kota deaths intensified, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav defended Gehlot and attacked UP CM Adityanath alleging that the latter had failed to attend to gross negligence and death of over a 1,000 children in the last 12 months in Gorakhpur in UP due to encephalitis but is keen to comment about deaths in Rajasthan. "Yogi Adityanath is worried about Kota deaths. When will he be worried about the Gorakhpur deaths?" he asked.
Apart from raising the issue of 106 infants' death in Kota, the BJP is hoping for electoral gains from the release of Rs 42,000 crore by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for six crore farmers under the Centre's flagship PM-Kisan scheme. The direct transfer of Rs 2,000 each in bank accounts of lakhs of farmers in Rajasthan is likely to bring them closer to the saffron party in the rural polls in the state, said a political analyst.
According to government figures, 963 infants succumbed to death at the Kota hospital in 2019. But the politics over death of innocent women and infants in the hospital appears to be overshadowing the seriousness of the matter. Rajasthan Congress chief Avinash Pande dismissed Opposition allegations that Sonia Gandhi has refrained from reacting on the hospital deaths. “Ms Gandhi has spoken to the CM and directed that there should be no more deaths due to lack of hospital facilities or negligence,” he said, blaming the BJP for flogging the Rajasthan government with the objective of diverting attention from the CAA issue.
Amid the claims and counter claims of the ruling Congress and the Opposition parties like the BJP and the BSP, the poor public has ended up facing the brunt of poor infrastructure at Rajasthan government's hospital. At one end are the Opposition parties which are looking to run down the Gehlot government over the deaths and on the other, are the ruling Congress and CM Gehlot who are trying to take solace in the fact that 963 deaths in 2019 are the lowest annual toll at the Kota hospital in the past six years.
With rural polls likely to dominate the political scene in desert state in the coming weeks, there is an increasing possibility of issues like CAA and the Kota hospital deaths figuring prominently in the campaigns of the big players. It would be interesting to see if a national issue like the CAA ends up overshadowing local governance issue like the deaths in Kota Hospital in the elections to 9,171 panchayats.
But whatever be the impact of Koda deaths on the outcome of Rajasthan rural polls, the official apathy exposed by the case has come as a chilling reminder of the fact that health is still not a top priority issue in states.