news analysis

What is the BJP's game plan in imposing President's rule in Uttarakhand?

Saffron party chooses to deny Congress government its chance to prove its strength on the floor of the house.

Is the Bharatiya Janata Party attempting to replicate the Arunachal Pradesh model in Uttarakhand?

The Modi government’s decision to impose Central rule in Uttarakhand on Sunday, the day before the Congress-led Harish Rawat government was to face a floor test and keep the Assembly in suspended animation, suggests as much.

This is particularly so as the proclamation of President’s rule in a state has to be ratified by both houses of Parliament within two months of notification. The National Democratic Alliance government will find it difficult to get Parliamentary approval as it does not have the requisite numbers in the Rajya Sabha.

The second half of the ongoing budget session is to commence on April 25. The BJP is expected to step up efforts to form an alternative government in the coming weeks to avoid going to Parliament for the ratification of President’s rule in Uttarakhand.

Tested strategy

The BJP had used the same strategy in Arunachal Pradesh last month. It imposed President’s rule in the North Eastern state but ensured that a new government was in place before Parliament convened for the budget session on February 23. The BJP did not form the government in Itanagar. Instead, its 11 legislators extended outside support to dissident Congress MLAs to enable them to form a new government. The Congress dragged the BJP to court in this matter but the apex court rejected its plea that it should be allowed to go in for a floor test in the assembly to prove its majority.

In Uttarakhand, governor KK Paul had directed Chief Minister Rawat to prove his majority in the Assembly on March 28 after nine Congress MLAs revolted against him. The BJP wanted the Rawat government to be dismissed, claiming that it was in a minority. The two sides have been involved in a war of words over the past few days with the situation becoming particularly dirty after the rebel legislators released a sting video on Saturday which reportedly showed Rawat indulging in horse-trading.

In a surprise move on Sunday, the BJP-led NDA government decided to recommend imposition of President’s rule without waiting for the floor test sought by the governor. This indicates that the BJP did not want the vote to take place as it feared that Rawat could pull off a victory after the Uttarakhand Speaker moved to disqualify the nine rebel Congress MLAs. Their disqualification would have reduced the strength of the 70-member assembly to 61. Rawat’s supporters maintained he could pass the floor test as he had the support of 33 legislators, which included 27 Congress legislators and six members of the Progressive Democratic Front. The BJP has 28 legislators in the assembly.

The imposition of President’s rule has given the BJP some breathing space. The party now has more time to wean away more Congress MLAs in the coming days on the plea that they would be forced to face an early election if a new government is not formed. Although the next Assembly elections is only a year away, legislators may be tempted to switch sides as nobody wants his tenure to be cut short.

Targetting Rahul Gandhi

Besides wanting to highlight that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is not in control, the BJP also wanted to cut Rawat to size before next year’s assembly polls. The BJP believes it will be at an advantage if it has its own government in place before the elections as it will then have control over the state machinery. It could also use the sting video to embroil Rawat in a legal case in its effort to discredit him. This is important for the BJP as Rawat is counted as the state’s tallest leader, with a considerable mass following. On the other hand, the BJP cannot boast of any credible state leaders.

At the same time, the BJP hopes that the Uttarakhand episode, followed by the fiasco in Arunachal Pradesh, will show the Congress in poor light in next month’s assembly polls in Assam, Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The BJP has virtually no stakes in these elections but the Congress has to defend its state governments in Kerala and Assam. A defeat will not only reduce the number of state governments in the Congress kitty but it will also have an adverse impact at the national level. Congress cadres will become more restive and Rahul Gandhi will come under further pressure to prove himself. The BJP hopes an electoral setback would also force the Congress to tone down its offensive against the Modi government as it will have to necessarily focus on putting its own house in order first.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.