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Lancet backs Modicare: The only person who should be happy about this report is Rahul Gandhi

Sanghamitra Baruah
Sanghamitra BaruahSep 14, 2018 | 19:23

Lancet backs Modicare: The only person who should be happy about this report is Rahul Gandhi

'Chocolate is good for your heart, says a new study'

'It's a myth that chocolate is good for heart, says new study'

A reputed medical journal and its editor-in-chief have put Indians in a similar chocolatey dilemma about the Modi government.

According to The Lancet, Narendra Modi is the first prime minister of India to have prioritised universal health coverage as part of his political platform under the 'Ayushman Bharat' programme. Editor-in-chief Richard Horton has said the prime minister has grasped the importance of health not only as a natural right of citizens, but also as a political instrument to meet the growing expectations of India's emerging middle class.

While a lot of Indians have erupted into ecstatic joy over the Lancet validation, Horton's latest opinion on PM Modi looks stickier than the chocolatey 'truths', considering the same journal and the same editor three years ago had criticised PM Narendra Modi for not paying attention to the health sector in the country.

hug690_072118055650_091418063944.jpgThank you: The political commentary on PM Modi versus Rahul Gandhi by Lancet's  editor-in-chief is a must-read this weekend.  

Ironically, Horton, in an interview to The Times of India in 2015 had lambasted the PM for completely ignoring health from the political agenda. "I don't see any new policies, any new ideas, any significant public commitment and most importantly no financial commitment to the health sector," he had told the newspaper.

Horton, in the same interview, had also said: "Since Modi has come in, health has completely vanished. India is on the edge. If PM Modi does not tackle health, India's economy combined with rising population is not sustainable. For India, health is an issue of national security. The government cannot protect the sovereignty of its nation, cannot ensure sustainability unless it has a healthy population. At present Modi has done nothing much to tackle the challenge".

The problem, however, is not whether the latest Lancet report is Horton's coming-of-age, or the fact that the Modi government actually has changed its focus, or the fact that the PR machinery is working overtime ahead of the 2019 elections. What is baffling is how the Modi government and his supporters received the two distinct reports.

Following the criticism in 2015, the health ministry, in a terse letter to Horton, had reportedly written that "new policies and ideas are necessary, but it is equally important to consolidate work being done to ensure that services actually reach the people they are meant for".

According to this TOI report, Rakesh Kumar, joint secretary, further wrote, "...launching an alphabet soup of programmes every quarter and not being able to implement them in true letter and spirit is a disservice to the people we serve."

In a "point-by-point" rebuttal, the health ministry also termed the language used in the interview as "derogatory" and "not borne by evidence" and said that the journal must "not become a tool in the hands of people with their own agenda for generating political controversies".

Circa 2018

Apart from the mainstream news media going gaga over the substantiation, Modi supporters have flooded Twitter with #Modicare and screenshots of the Lancet piece, underlining the words of praise.

But they are more happy about the fact that the Lancet editor-in-chief was critical of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who, according to Horton, is "yet to match Modicare".

"Rahul Gandhi seeking to resurrect the Congress and prove that India's greatest political dynasty still has something to offer, despite his promises to help lower castes, tribal communities and rural poor, is yet to match Modicare," Horton said in his article in the journal.

The editor-in-chief asserted that health will be a decisive issue in next year's general election in the country.

While it's not difficult to see the science behind Horton's interest in India's 2019 general elections, he would have done better to explain why he feels a party president who also happens to be an Opposition MP should match the work done by a government and its PM.

How is a Rahul Gandhi or an Amit Shah supposed to match a government of India scheme, which, by the way, is yet to be rolled out?

What could be more preposterous than comparing a vision, which is yet to be launched and realised, thereby already declaring it a success?

Back in 2015, Horton was of the opinion that "... before Modi came in, health was an issue that wasn't as high in the agenda as it should have been but it was definitely on the agenda. Since Modi has come in, health has completely vanished and this is a desperate predicament for the Indian population not having health as a central political objective of the government".

Lost in the din of celebrations over the latest report and the consequent chastising of those who are talking about the 2015 report, is an equally important report by the same journal about the number of suicides in India. And the fact that there is a huge gap between the Lancet and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.

While the Lancet study pegged the number of suicides in India in 2016 at 2.57 lakh (nearly 94,380 were women), the 2015 NCRB report showed 1.33 lakh suicides, of which 42,088 were women. As per the NCRB data, there were 91,528 suicides by males. (Curiously, the NCRB is yet to release its 2016 accidental deaths and suicides in India report).

Experts though attribute the lower figures provided by the NCRB to under-reporting and the fact that NCRB draws its data from First Information Reports (FIRs).

Rakhi Dandona, the principal author of the Lancet study, was quoted by the Times of India that the NCRB is dependent on "data that is under-reported at different levels in the absence of a robust system to keep a track of vital registration and cause of death".

“This system exists in the urban sector but is largely absent in the rural areas. The data collected by Lancet researchers is based on sample registration surveys and medically certified causes of death."

So, why this huge gap in the two reports?

Some are already contesting the Lancet study on suicides for claiming that married women account for the highest proportion of suicide deaths in India.

So, are we to believe that the Lancet author is right about the NCRB relying on under-reported data, or that the Lancet study is inaccurate? But then, we are allowed to unquestioningly believe the Lancet report on Modicare as cent percent accurate, right?

Whether the 'findings' of the Lancet are genuine or not, the fact of the matter is that Modicare has got the "validation" it needed ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. And nobody can contest this one fact.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter which chocolate study is more accurate. The truth is, it's the chocolate lover who is tempted to believe that chocolate is good for him.

Last updated: September 17, 2018 | 19:26
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