The dotted line

Modi takes credit for nuclear deal with US, ignoring crucial role played by Manmohan

While in opposition, the BJP was not keen on the pact.

US President Barack Obama’s recently-concluded three-day visit to India has been touted as a resounding success by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. Its leaders are particularly euphoric about the finalisation of the long-pending Indo-US civil nuclear deal.

The breakthrough in the six-year-old impasse, which had held up the implementation of the deal, has  predictably been credited to the personal chemistry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Obama.

The subject was clearly the highlight of the joint press conference addressed by Obama and Modi with both leaders agreeing that the agreement on the civil nuclear cooperation would further elevate the relationship between New Delhi and Washington.

As the ruling alliance celebrated Modi’s success in sealing the stalled nuclear deal, the NDA government and much of the public gave little thought to the man who made this possible. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the original architect of the controversial nuclear pact, was almost forgotten.

Contribution is ignored

Manmohan Singh’s contribution in sealing the nuclear with Obama’s predecessor George Bush remained unacknowledged by Modi and, except for a stray comment in television discussions, was largely glossed over by the media.

Once hailed by the press as “Singh is King” for his dogged pursuit of the nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh was relegated to the margins.

There was also no word from the Americans about Manmohan Singh’s role in initiating the nuclear deal with the US, though Obama is said to have acknowledged his contribution when a Congress delegation, including the former Prime Minister, met the US president in his hotel suite after the Republic Day parade.

"Obama acknowledged the contribution of the UPA government, which scripted this agreement,” former Union minister Anand Sharma, who was also part of the delegation, told press persons after the meeting. “We had made that decision despite risks involved. We had even risked our government then...We will look at the assurances given to both sides on the agreement that was signed in 2008 ending the nuclear apartheid to India."


A footnote 

Today, it may be viewed as a footnote in contemporary history but there is no denying that it was Manmohan Singh’s personal effort and determination over five years that ensured that the historic Indo-US civil nuclear agreement eventually became a reality.

But it was not an easy journey for the former Prime Minister. He was personally convinced that the agreement would end India’s nuclear isolation and give the country access to much-needed technology for its space and nuclear programmes. But the former Prime Minister was hobbled by the fact that he was heading a coalition government that was critically dependent on the outside support of the Left parties whose anti-US stance was well-known.

Not only did Manmohan Singh have to deal with opposition from the Communists, he also had to battle his own party and the bureaucracy, which had strong reservations about improving ties with the US.  The scepticism in the Congress was attributed to the party’s long-held belief in a non-aligned foreign policy as enunciated by Jawaharlal Nehru and the country’s subsequent tilt towards the Soviet Union. In addition, the party was worried that the UPA government’s pro-US shift could alienate the Muslim community which was not favourably inclined towards George Bush.

Sanjaya Baru, who was Manmohan Singh’s media advisor during this crucial period, has given a detailed account of how the former Prime Minister managed to beat down his opponents in his hugely-successful book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh.

Keeping up the pressure

Baru has recounted how Manmohan Singh negotiated with the Communists and his own party and how he even threatened to resign if he was not allowed to pursue this agreement. While the Congress eventually fell in line after party president Sonia Gandhi publicly backed Manmohan Singh on this deal, the Left parties were not happy that the United Progressive Alliance had decided to go ahead with the negotiations and eventually walked out of the government.

The UPA came close to collapse and, at one stage, it appeared that the government and the deal would fall through. But a determined Manmohan Singh stayed the course and the UPA government survived a crucial trust vote when the Mulayum Singh-led Samajwadi Party, which had initially opposed the nuclear pact, changed its stance and bailed out  the government.

The BJP, the main opposition party then, was also not enamoured by  Manmohan Singh’s pursuit of this nuclear agreement and used every possible opportunity to derail the negotiations. The BJP cornered the UPA government in general and Manmohan Singh in particular on several occasions in Parliament over their growing proximity to the US, often describing the agreement as a sell-out to America. The BJP’s opposition was indeed ironical as it was former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who laid the foundation for this agreement during his tenure.

This is a far cry from the BJP’s present excitement over the “chemistry between Obama and Modi” amplified by the bear hug exchanged by the two leaders at the airport last week. The party also appears to have forgotten its old objections to the nuclear deal. Modi was particularly thrilled at finally ending the logjam over the nuclear liability bill. He even went as far as to describe the nuclear agreement as a “centrepiece” of  the improved relations between the two countries.

"The civil nuclear agreement”, Modi declared at the joint press conference with Obama “was the centrepiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy."

Sticking point

While the heavy lifting over the nuclear pact was undertaken during Manmohan Singh’s regime, the agreement could not implemented as  the American equipment suppliers did not agree with the provisions of the Indian liability law which held  the suppliers  liable in case of an accident.  The US and other Western countries have been pressing India to follow global norms under which the liability rests with the operator.

On its part, the US had been demanding that it should be allowed to track nuclear material it supplies to India. New Delhi was not agreeable to this.

Although no details have been provided about their agreement, Modi and Obama declared  that these outstanding issues, which had held up the implementation of the nuclear deal for six years, had been sorted out.

The Congress has been quick to take credit for the deal but it has not rushed to endorse the Obama-Modi agreement, stating that it will first have to study the fine print. It is now to be seen if the Congress will follow in the footsteps of the BJP when it was in the opposition.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Putting the patient first - insights for hospitals to meet customer service expectations

These emerging solutions are a fine balance between technology and the human touch.

As customers become more vocal and assertive of their needs, their expectations are changing across industries. Consequently, customer service has gone from being a hygiene factor to actively influencing the customer’s choice of product or service. This trend is also being seen in the healthcare segment. Today good healthcare service is no longer defined by just qualified doctors and the quality of medical treatment offered. The overall ambience, convenience, hospitality and the warmth and friendliness of staff is becoming a crucial way for hospitals to differentiate themselves.

A study by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions in fact indicates that good patient experience is also excellent from a profitability point of view. The study, conducted in the US, analyzed the impact of hospital ratings by patients on overall margins and return on assets. It revealed that hospitals with high patient-reported experience scores have higher profitability. For instance, hospitals with ‘excellent’ consumer assessment scores between 2008 and 2014 had a net margin of 4.7 percent, on average, as compared to just 1.8 percent for hospitals with ‘low’ scores.

This clearly indicates that good customer service in hospitals boosts loyalty and goodwill as well as financial performance. Many healthcare service providers are thus putting their efforts behind: understanding constantly evolving customer expectations, solving long-standing problems in hospital management (such as long check-out times) and proactively offering a better experience by leveraging technology and human interface.

The evolving patient

Healthcare service customers, who comprise both the patient and his or her family and friends, are more exposed today to high standards of service across industries. As a result, hospitals are putting patient care right on top of their priorities. An example of this in action can be seen in the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. In July 2015, the hospital launched a ‘Smart OPD’ system — an integrated mobile health system under which the entire medical ecosystem of the hospital was brought together on a digital app. Patients could use the app to book/reschedule doctor’s appointments and doctors could use it to access a patient’s medical history, write prescriptions and schedule appointments. To further aid the process, IT assistants were provided to help those uncomfortable with technology.

The need for such initiatives and the evolving nature of patient care were among the central themes of the recently concluded Abbott Hospital Leadership Summit. The speakers included pundits from marketing and customer relations along with leaders in the healthcare space.

Among them was the illustrious speaker Larry Hochman, a globally recognised name in customer service. According to Mr. Hochman, who has worked with British Airways and Air Miles, patients are rapidly evolving from passive recipients of treatment to active consumers who are evaluating their overall experience with a hospital on social media and creating a ‘word-of-mouth’ economy. He talks about this in the video below.

Play

As the video says, with social media and other public platforms being available today to share experiences, hospitals need to ensure that every customer walks away with a good experience.

The promise gap

In his address, Mr. Hochman also spoke at length about the ‘promise gap’ — the difference between what a company promises to deliver and what it actually delivers. In the video given below, he explains the concept in detail. As the gap grows wider, the potential for customer dissatisfaction increases.

Play

So how do hospitals differentiate themselves with this evolved set of customers? How do they ensure that the promise gap remains small? “You can create a unique value only through relationships, because that is something that is not manufactured. It is about people, it’s a human thing,” says Mr. Hochman in the video below.

Play

As Mr. Hochman and others in the discussion panel point out, the key to delivering a good customer experience is to instil a culture of empathy and hospitality across the organisation. Whether it is small things like smiling at patients, educating them at every step about their illness or listening to them to understand their fears, every action needs to be geared towards making the customer feel that they made the correct decision by getting treated at that hospital. This is also why, Dr. Nandkumar Jairam, Chairman and Group Medical Director, Columbia Asia, talked about the need for hospitals to train and hire people with soft skills and qualities such as empathy and the ability to listen.

Striking the balance

Bridging the promise gap also involves a balance between technology and the human touch. Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group, who also spoke at the event, wrote about the example of Dr. Devi Shetty’s Narayana Health Hospitals. He writes that their team of surgeons typically performs about 900 procedures a month which is equivalent to what most U.S. university hospitals do in a year. The hospitals employ cutting edge technology and other simple innovations to improve efficiency and patient care.

The insights gained from Narayana’s model show that while technology increases efficiency of processes, what really makes a difference to customers are the human touch-points. As Mr. Hochman says, “Human touch points matter more because there are less and less of them today and are therefore crucial to the whole customer experience.”

Play

By putting customers at the core of their thinking, many hospitals have been able to apply innovative solutions to solve age old problems. For example, Max Healthcare, introduced paramedics on motorcycles to circumvent heavy traffic and respond faster to critical emergencies. While ambulances reach 30 minutes after a call, the motorcycles reach in just 17 minutes. In the first three months, two lives were saved because of this customer-centric innovation.

Hospitals are also looking at data and consumer research to identify consumer pain points. Rajit Mehta, the MD and CEO of Max Healthcare Institute, who was a panelist at the summit, spoke of the importance of data to understand patient needs. His organisation used consumer research to identify three critical areas that needed work - discharge and admission processes for IPD patients and wait-time for OPD patients. To improve wait-time, they incentivised people to book appointments online. They also installed digital kiosks where customers could punch in their details to get an appointment quickly.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.