The resignation of Delhi minister Rajendra Pal Gautam over his alleged anti-Hindu comments at a mass conversion programme is clearly aimed at damage control ahead of the Gujarat Assembly polls, where the Aam Aadmi Party has pulled out all the stops for electoral success. At the risk of alienating the Dalit vote, the AAP made a tactical move to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva plank. The latter latched on to Mr Gautam’s anti-Hindu statements at a mass conversion rally in Delhi on October 5, even though he was only reciting B R Ambedkar’s 22 vows that include renunciation of Hinduism and vowing to no longer believe in Hindu gods or practices. Although Mr Gautam has claimed that he stepped down because he did not want his actions to inconvenience party leader Arvind Kejriwal, it is obvious that the AAP thought it prudent to nip the issue in the bud as the BJP had ratcheted up the rhetoric with a loud chorus demanding the minister’s resignation. The controversy could well impact the AAP’s Hindu votes, not only in Gujarat but in Himachal Pradesh too, where it is a strong contender. Posters have already come up in Gujarat depicting the AAP as an anti-Hindu party. Kejriwal has attempted to stem the row by claiming that he was born on Krishna Janmashtami for the purpose of defeating the descendants of Kansa and rooting out corruption.
The AAP template of promising free power, better schools and improved medical treatment does not appear to have found the same resonance in Gujarat that it had in Delhi and Punjab. The BJP’s Hindutva model and its blatant appeal to the majority electorate has lured the Gujarati voter in election after election for 27 years and it does not appear to be any different this time. Though the AAP had done well in civic elections in 2021 in the Surat and Rajkot belts, the party has perhaps realised that it will have to marry Hindutva with development to make any headway in the western state. The astute politician that he is, Kejriwal has already promised senior citizens a free pilgrimage scheme, including to Ayodhya. In keeping with its pragmatic approach to politics, the AAP has also maintained radio silence on the issue of the public flogging by police personnel of those accused of disrupting a garba event in Kheda. There was outrage over this vigilantism but the Kejriwal-led party chose political expediency over ideology. That indeed is the hallmark of this political outfit, which has its origins in an anti-corruption movement that shook the establishment a decade ago.
Gambia tragedy a wake-up call
The World Health Organization alert against four cough syrups exported by an Indian pharmaceutical company to Gambia for allegedly causing the deaths of 66 children there has raised several questions on the efficacy of the regulatory system in India. The cough syrups, manufactured by Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited in Haryana, were found to have unacceptable amounts of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol, both toxic to humans with potential lethal effects. Maiden Pharmaceuticals, which has a presence in Africa, South America, South East Asia and the Middle East, was earlier blacklisted for its “sub-standard” products in Bihar, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat as also Vietnam. It is curious how the company was allowed to sell medicines abroad. The certificate of pharmaceutical product (COPP), made mandatory by WHO, is issued on behalf of the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) only after clearance from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation. How a company whose products were red-flagged by several states got this certification remains a mystery.
The DCGI has ordered a probe into the Gambia incident, but is it not a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted? India has had a long and fruitful history of cooperation with Africa in the health sector, especially in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and other infectious diseases, and to promote maternal and child health. Nowhere was this synergy more apparent than during the Covid pandemic, when New Delhi supplied vaccines, test kits, medical equipment and life-saving drugs to several African countries which have for long depended on India for the supply of affordable medicines. An incident like Gambia can set back this cooperation by decades. The suggestion that the African nation had failed to test the medicines before their distribution in the health system sounds like an excuse for the failure of India’s regulatory system.
This unspeakable tragedy has indeed been a wake-up call, reminding us that strengthening regulation of the drug industry is long overdue. Let us prevent any more such incidents by instituting a robust testing system that will weed out any lacunae in drug manufacturing.