Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav struck a pragmatic note when he averred in an interview that a united Opposition attempt to oust the BJP from power would be incomplete if the Congress was not factored into the strategic calculations as it is the largest Opposition party. Tejashwi’s new ally Nitish Kumar also made it a point to call on Sonia Gandhi during his recent Delhi visit when he touched base with Opposition leaders to chalk out an action plan for 2024. The RJD leader’s assertion that the sole aim of Opposition parties should be to defeat the BJP and personal ambitions should be kept in abeyance is unfortunately not how things are unfolding. Regional satraps such as TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee have made their leadership ambitions quite evident, making it clear that the Congress has little or no role in any Opposition configuration. It is not so easy, however, to wish away the Congress which is still the only other party with a pan-Indian presence. Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal has taken matters to another level altogether by openly asserting that he is the only real challenger to Narendra Modi. This clash of egos does not bode well for Opposition unity.
The latest example is Mr Kejriwal’s counter to the Bharat Jodo Yatra of the Congress — a ‘Make India Number 1’ campaign which he launched recently. Mr Kejriwal accused political parties of squandering the 75 years after Independence by not focusing on key issues of public health, education and poverty eradication. While there may be some truth to his assertions, any attempt at taking on the BJP single-handedly is doomed to fail. The Congress, which suffered successive humiliating defeats at the hands of AAP in Delhi after 15 years in power, did not hesitate to take on Manish Sisodia when he faced the brunt of ED and CBI raids, and demanded his immediate resignation. The Congress, which itself has been at the receiving end of raids against its leaders in the National Herald case, displayed its short-sightedness by targeting the deputy chief minister for alleged corrupt practices instead of expressing solidarity with another target of the government’s investigative agencies. That the Congress chose to side with its Delhi unit in taking on the AAP instead of looking at the bigger picture is evidence of how fractured the index of Opposition unity is. The BJP’s electoral juggernaut rolls on and nothing short of a miracle can halt it in its tracks.
Fighting TB: Stiff challenges ahead
The government’s ambitious programme to eliminate tuberculosis in India by 2025, five years ahead of the timeline set by the World Health Organization as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, got a boost last week when President Droupadi Murmu launched the Pradhan Mantri TB Mukt Bharat Abhiyan, a programme aimed at bringing together all community stakeholders to help those undergoing treatment and to speed up the country’s progress towards elimination of the disease. The burden of TB has weighed heavily on the country with 0.20-0.25 billion cases and 0.04 billion deaths being reported every year. That is why the government’s announcement of a National Strategic Plan for Elimination of Tuberculosis in 2017 aimed at eradicating the disease in India by 2025 was a welcome step, but the fight against TB suffered immensely during the two severe COVID-19 waves of 2020 and 2021. The WHO estimated that the pandemic set the TB programme in India back by almost a decade.
Elimination of TB means there should be less than one case for a population of 10 lakh, according to WHO. To realistically achieve a TB-free India by 2025, the country has to get into mission mode. The grim fact is that TB remains a disease of poverty and inequality. Medicines may be free, but initial diagnostic costs, transportation and good nutrition, that can optimise treatment, may be impeded by lack of funds. In fact, undernutrition is a major cause for the increase of TB cases. The Nikshay Poshan Yojana of the health ministry, a scheme to provide all registered TB patients Rs 500 a month as direct benefit transfer for their nutritional supplementation, has not seen much success with only 62% of cases receiving one tranche of the payment under the scheme. The task ahead is enormous but the only way forward is when the public health sector and private hospitals improve their treatment regimens and work in tandem. The programme has to be executed more efficiently, with increased surveillance and follow-up of TB patients. The stigma associated with the disease has to be tackled and patients must get the necessary social and emotional help as well. Unless a cohesive effort is made by all stakeholders, the goal of eliminating TB in India may well remain a distant dream.