India's Home Minister gets little sympathy

India's Home Minister Amit Shah, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has come under fire for his decision to seek treatment at a private hospital after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Many social media users are pointedly asking why he got himself admitted to the Medanta Hospital in Gurugram instead of choosing the government-run All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.

A team of AIIMS doctors, however, will visit him and monitor his treatment. "Public institutions need the patronage of the powerful if they are to inspire public confidence," tweeted Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor.

Others asked why Mr Shah has not tried the "home remedies" recommended by the government.

Addressing the country in March and April, Mr Modi appealed to people to light candles and clang metal plates to "defeat the despair of coronavirus", while a minister from his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March told the Assam state assembly that cow urine and cow dung could cure Covid-19.

Last month, one BJP parliamentarian launched a brand of pappadum that he said would help develop antibodies against the disease.

A Twitter user, Khushboo, posted an image of a fake prescription for Mr Shah that advised him to partake of these remedies.

"The jibe was against the unscientific cures propagated by the government and the ruling BJP for the ordinary people," Ms Khushboo said.

A meme doing the rounds pointed out that when Mr Shah tested positive, he did not bang plates or take homeopathic medicine.

"He got himself admitted in a modern hospital," it said. "Amit is smart. Be like him."

Mr Harjit Singh Bhatti, a Delhi-based doctor and activist, told the South China Morning Post that the government's "propaganda" about Ayurvedic and homeopathic medicines as Covid-19 cures had created hurdles for modern medicine practitioners looking to do their jobs efficiently.

"But now that the home minister went straight to a modern hospital for allopathic treatment without resorting to the methods that his colleagues had propagated, people will be convinced that only modern medicine can work," he said.

Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan said people were looking for adequate healthcare solutions from the government, which claimed that everything was in order - so it was seen as "poetic justice" when Mr Shah tested positive. "The disappointment of people has turned to contempt and they are expressing it through social media," he said.

According to Mr Bhatti, Indians are angry at the state of the healthcare system amid the pandemic.

"Many people have not been able to get themselves tested on time and get beds in hospitals, yet the politicians are receiving all facilities even with minor symptoms," he said. "People have understood that healthcare is only for the privileged in this country. This shows the inequality."

Mr Shah isn't alone. Only a handful of politicians seem to trust the country's public healthcare system.

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa is admitted at the posh Manipal Hospital in Bengaluru, while Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been admitted at the privately owned Chirayu Medical College and Hospital in Bhopal.

Around 20 ministers in the states and at the Centre have tested positive for Covid-19, but 17 of them chose private healthcare facilities over state-run hospitals, reported ThePrint.

Only Uttar Pradesh's Minister of Technical Education Kamal Rani Varun and Uttarakhand Tourism Minister Satpal Maharaj chose government-run facilities. Ms Rani, however, succumbed to Covid-19 on Sunday.

Maharashtra's Fisheries and Textiles Minister Aslam Sheikh is in home quarantine.

Commenting on the trend, former secretary of health and family welfare K. Sujatha Rao said: "Ministers going to private hospitals for treatment isn't new but it doesn't send out a good message to the common man. If the home minister trusts a private hospital more, why is the AIIMS director being asked to abandon his own patients and travel 30 kilometres to see him."

"They (politicians) must realise there are others who can't afford that (private treatment) and they look at politicians to set an example."

Madhya Pradesh BJP leader Dr Hitesh Bajpai, however, defended high-profile politicians choosing the private sector for Covid-19 treatment, saying that several factors come into play.

"Their security, proximity to airports and privacy are some of the factors that need to be kept in mind," he said. "While it is essential that we understand the need to acknowledge the challenges that the public healthcare system faces, we need to also consider the requirements of VIP patients."

Indo-Asian News Service, AFP


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