Kolkata: Diamond Harbour is going to be one of the most interesting parliamentary constituencies to watch in West Bengal in the ongoing Lok Sabha Election. Here the incumbent Member of Parliament (MP) is Abhishek Banerjee of Trinamool Congress, and Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded Dr Fuad Halim, a practicing doctor for the past 24 years, against Abhishek. CPIM was on second position in 2014. While Abhishek is the nephew of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Dr Faud, popularly known as the people’s doctor is a true blue communist. He has the legacy of his father, Hashim Abdul Halim, the longest serving speaker of Bengal Assembly (29 years), the longest one in India, to follow. In an exclusive interview to eNewsroom, Dr Fuad Halim talked at length about various issue right from BJP’s politics of inducting alleged criminals and corrupt TMC leaders, to how TMC and BJP share the same birth mark, and the condition of healthcare system in Mamata and Modi raj, at his residence in Kolkata, hours before shifting to Diamond Harbour to starting his full fledged campaign. Following are the excerpts:
eNewsroom: You are contesting against one of the most powerful person (Abhishek Banerjee) of TMC. There have been several allegations against TMC for hooliganism and use of government machineries during elections. How will you fight it out?
Dr Fuad: The money and muscle power are lame before people’s power. Our organization and party clearly believe in the power of the people. The misuse of power and dubious use of it, has been exposed in past also, and it will be exposed in this election too. Ultimately it’s the people’s power which shall prevail.
eNewsroom: Recently Ravishankar Prasad, one of the ministers of Narendra Modi government met the election commission official and asked for the deployment of paramilitary forces in Bengal. Do you also agree with it? What’s your take on this issue?
Dr Fuad: The law and order situation is such in Bengal that most TMC leaders have been jailed or soon they will be behind bars. In fact TMC itself has lodged criminal cases against their own MP. This reflects the condition of law and order in the state. If you can mark this trend – most of the TMC leaders who have been accused for their alleged role in corruption and crime have all been inducted into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). So the demand of BJP should have been initiated in their camp by not giving tickets or accepting the tainted TMC leaders. In fact they are giving tickets to the established criminals of TMC and on the flip side; they are demanding forces to be deployed in every constituency.
Dr Fuad Halim at his clinic just before leaving for his constituency to campaign
eNewsroom: You are known as the People’s Doctor, and you have a legacy to follow. How are these going to help you in the election?
Dr Fuad: Number one, my medical career started after I joined politics, and I do not see any difference between my political ideology and the way I practice medicine. In fact, my medical practice is rooted from my understanding of medicine and political believes. Hence I am one person, with one identity. Both my identity have merged into one.
Second, I am a third generation politician from my family. People famously know my father (Hashim Abdul Halim) but my grandfather (Abdul Halim) was nominated as a councilor under the leadership of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose in Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The room and the building, where you are sitting now has a historic importance as it was in this room that Subodh Roy had gone underground and on the ground floor of this building the Hindustan Socialist Army used to have meetings. So my family has been involved in political activism prior to independence. And it is those ideas that I stand for and will take it forward by presenting to the people of the Diamond Harbour constituency, who are going to elect me.
eNewsroom: Being a doctor, with over two decades of experience, how you find the healthcare system in Bengal and your take on the Ayushman Bharat scheme of the Modi government?
Dr Fuad: The neo-liberal thrust in the healthcare sector has been overarching and impacting the health policies at both the central and state level. If you look at the Ayushman Bharat programme then you will see that in one part, while it accords the card to people which will give benefits up to Rs 5 lakhs to the card holders, the government on the other hand is giving huge subsidy to private sector, specially to corporate to actually increase their capacity at the tax payer’s cost.
The second part, which is very clear, is withdrawal of the role of the state of public health infrastructure, because by making this card the Rupee One spent by the government was on the health system, will no benefit the public in totality as it earlier used to. Let me explain this – earlier if any government spent Rupee One on the public health system, then the entire one rupee was delivered to public in the form of healthcare service. But with the involvement of the insurance sector now the entire Rupee One will not be reaching the common man. About 40 per cent of the amount will now make its way to the coffers of the private insurance company.
Perhaps, now you can understand that about 40 percent of the money invested in the healthcare facility will remain underutilized, while these corporate will now have the increasing footfall of the poorest of the poor. In a way, the government is using the taxpayer’s money to increase the balance sheet of the private and corporate healthcare sector. Hence, no money will be spent while availing the Ayushman Bharat scheme will not be spent on public hospitals or public healthcare infrastructure. So, this is a clear death nail, that Narendra Modi wants to bring in terms of the public healthcare infrastructure and same time to insure that the profit of private-corporate profitability to go up at the cost of tax payers money.
At state level, we have seen 42 super specialty hospitals being constructed using the tax payers money. It is being presented as something new and innovative but its dysfunction is evident that Jhargram super specialty hospital has been handed over to the Jindal group. And now the procedure to have these 42 super specialty hospital privatized has been initiated.
Human resource has come down too, in 2011 there were almost 10000 doctors in West Bengal Health Service, but now it has been reduced to 6600. An attempt has been made to step it up by increasing the date of retirement, first from 60 to 62 years and now 62 to 65. But the massive decline of human resource issue is quite evident in the public healthcare system of Bengal.
eNewsroom: I have learnt that CPI (M) is going to campaign on two Cs—Corruption of TMC and Communalism of BJP, will it be the same for you or you will add something more to your campaign?
Dr Fuad: It’s very clear that when issues impacting the lives of common man are being raised, they not just get massive support but also political results. That we had seen during the Kisan Rallies and the All India General Strike.
And when we look at the political results we have seen BJP has been defeated in three major states, post these massive movements. Now we have also seen that wherever these issues have been raised, BJP comes forth with the communal agenda as they want to divert the attention. And not only BJP raise communal agenda but also create a binary of Indo-Pak issue. We need to understand that it is their political narrative, which we will counter it with the issue of farmers’ distress, unemployment, women’s safety and other issues which are core ones to the common man of India.
The issue of corruption has been strongly helped by BJP, in terms of supporting the TMC, by not taking action. And the corrupt people who were there in TMC and now making way into BJP and have become office bearers, namely Mukul Roy, Arjun Singh, Soumitra Khan. So these issues are definitely going to be raised in the context that the criminal, corruption and communalism are the common identity of TMC and BJP.
One has to keep it in mind that when TMC chose to have flower as its symbol, it was their association with BJP which had the Lotus as its symbol, so birthmark mark of TMC identifies with the BJP.