With the Bharatiya Janata Party's ongoing campaign in poll-bound states of Himachal Pradesh, Kerala and Gujarat evidently topping Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath's priorities, children continue to perish in his political constituency Gorakhpur's BRD Medical College. Seventy children have died in the first five days of November alone at the hospital.
The medical college that is located in Adityanath's home district came in the spotlight with 63 children dying due to lack of oxygen in the paediatric ICU in August. It continues to be plagued with crisis after crisis.
Following Yogi's drastic steps against a corrupt system, oxygen shortage was not the reason for the deaths this time but neglect and apathy, which were writ large in every nook and cranny of the medical college. Filth and squalor were responsible for the unabated spread of infections in almost all wards of one of the state's largest and most advanced medical facilities.
The authorities, however, remain blindfolded to the harsh reality that has resulted in nearly 1,400 deaths over the past three months. The trend is worrying. There has been a steady rise in the number of deaths - 415 in August, 431 in September and 457 in October, followed by 70 between November 1 and 5. The figures for the corresponding period in 2016 stood at 277, 372 and 343. There were 349 deaths over the entire month of November in 2016.
Ever since the Yogi government drew sharp criticism on account of oxygen shortage that led to several deaths, a virtual iron curtain has been drawn by the administration to conceal all official records from the media. An unwritten diktat from the highest level has made all hospital records "out of bounds" to journalists, who therefore have to depend on their own investigative skills to extract information.
The problem began when the media exposed deaths caused due to oxygen shortage. Far from taking cognisance of the reports, Adityanath got into a denial mode, lambasting the media for what he chose to term as "fake news". While he admitted that a large number of children were dying because of the perennial problem of Japanese Encephalitis (JE), he called the rest of the deaths "neonatal", largely on account of premature deliveries. He also proudly proclaimed 92 lakh children had been immunised against JE solely on account of his personal efforts.
With more deaths continuing to occur, despite his much hyped "personal efforts", it was natural for the media to go ahead with reporting them. But that was something a despotic "mahant-turned-chief-minister" could not tolerate. What followed was an undeclared ban on giving journalists any access to hospital records.
Ironically, until not very long ago, while Adityanath was the local member of Parliament, he would leave no stone unturned to highlight the plight of Gorakhpur's poverty-ridden masses whose children were dying due to extremely poor health facilities in the region.
He was known to have often praised the media for taking up the cause of these children. And he never spared a chance to blast the then ruling dispensation for not displaying sufficient sensitivity towards the victims of the killer diseases that reigned supreme across large parts of eastern UP.
There is also no doubt that it was largely on account of his constant hammering that the then UPA government agreed to release funds for the setting up of a National Institute of Virology laboratory on the Gorakhpur medical college campus way back in 2011. However, despite repeated assurances by the Narendra Modi government to upgrade the laboratory into a full-fledged unit of the virology institute, nothing substantial has been done to take the project ahead.
What is surprising is that Adityanath, who always had his focus on children's deaths in Gorakhpur and adjacent areas, does not like to even hear about it, ever since he rode on to become the chief minister. Yes, he loves to applaud himself for getting the Union government to sanction an AIIMS for Gorakhpur.
Strangely, he has not been able to do anything meaningful about ridding Gorakhpur of widespread filth, garbage and stink emanating out of clogged and overflowing drains that were at the root of the spread of the killer encephalitis. Likewise, despite the much-hyped Swachh Bharat mission, nothing has been done to improve the appalling sanitary conditions in villages where open defecation, waterlogging and contaminated drinking water are known to give rise to all kinds of fatal infections.
Evidently, his priorities have shifted.
Today, apart from playing the Hindutva rabble-rouser in poll-bound states such as Himachal, Kerala and Gujarat, he is devoting greater attention to livewire Hindutva issues such as Ayodhya and the cow. In fact, he has already ordered that arrangements be made to ensuring ambulances for sick stray cows. On the contrary, poor children suffer due to grossly inadequate arrangements for carrying sick infants and children from remote villages to the primary health centres, community health centres or tertiary medical facilities at the Gorakhpur medical college that happens to be the only major centre for a vast population.
Is it because charity does not seem to begin at home for Yogi, or is it because dying children cannot garner votes, while the cow can help to accomplish his mission of polarising voters?