Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature

In India, a tight election—with healthcare trailing the field

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l2175 (Published 15 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2175
  1. Anoo Bhuyan, health reporter
  1. New Delhi, India
  1. anoo.email{at}gmail.com

Anoo Bhuyan considers the role of healthcare in the current election

In the midst of a national election that will end on 23 May, the 3000 seat Talkatora Stadium in Delhi recently filled up with traders and business people waiting to hear from India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

Modi is late. While the mostly male audience waits, they break into chants of praise for India or Hinduism, and a giant video screen runs long political ads for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The ads tout the government’s military actions and its fight against terrorism. For the first 20 minutes, there’s not a word about healthcare for India’s 1.3 billion people.

Finally, an ad makes a brief mention of Ayushman Bharat, a plan to make health insurance available to some Indians.

“Healthcare has featured in public discussions in the run-up to the elections and in some manifestos, but it hasn’t been prominent in the campaigns,” says Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India.

If tradition holds true, healthcare will be an afterthought in this election. Indian politicians usually court voters along communal, caste, and class lines. While politicians may not realise it, however, many people do have healthcare on their minds as they vote this month.

In 2014, when the BJP was fighting to come to power, their main promise was “vikas,” the Hindi word for development. Modi promised that people and businesses would see substantial progress across social sectors like health and education and also improvements in areas such as road …

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