POLITICAL BATTLE

In Kerala, Congress launches campaign amid BJP’s yatra to show the saffron party it’s still relevant

Unlike in other states, the Grand Old Party has a strong organisation in Kerala and still holds sway along with the Left Democratic Front.

Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s much-publicised Janaraksha Yatra is underway in Kerala to help the saffron party make inroads in the southern state, the Congress has launched a series of agitations to attack the central and state governments for their purported “anti-people policies”.

The Congress campaign began with day-night protests in front of the state secretariat and 12 district collectorates across Kerala on October 5 to protest against the BJP-led Centre for high fuel prices and the Left Democratic Front government in the state for its new liquor policy which eases the sale of alcohol in the state.

The party has next planned a state-wide hartal on October 16 against the hasty rollout of the Goods and Services Tax and other policy measures by the state and Centre that have hurt the people.

Then, on November 1, Ramesh Chennithala, leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, will set out on a month-long march from Kasargod district in the north to the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram in the south. Titled Padayorukkam (getting ready for the battle), the march is considered a build-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The campaigns are being organised by the United Democratic Front, the Congress-led seven-party coalition in the state.

The agitations are primarily aimed at the BJP, which is trying to make inroads into Karnataka, but the Congress also hopes to score political points over the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is currently in power in the state.

However, senior Congress leader and former state unit chief VM Sudheeran denied speculation that the campaign was launched as a last-minute counter to BJP’s Janaraksha Yatra, its two-week “march to protect people” that began on October 3 to protest the alleged rise in the number of murders of Sangh Parivar members in the state. The saffron party blames the CPI(M) for the violence.

“Our protests are for people. It is not to counter BJP’s yatra,” Sudheeran said. “ “GST and fuel price hike have made people’s lives miserable.”

He added: “The Amit Shah-conceived Janaraksha Yatra...did not touch a chord with the people. The BJP cannot make an electoral impact in Kerala, despite their efforts to communally polarise the society.”

Dominant force

Even though it was trounced in the 2016 Assembly elections, the Congress remains a significant political party in Kerala, which has largely chosen between the United Democratic Front and the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front governments in recent years.

Also, though the United Democratic Front won just 47 seats last year, with the Congress contributing just 22 seats, its vote share, at 23.7% vote share was just 2.8% less than that of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which had won the elections with 58 seats. The BJP, winning its first seat in the state, had a vote share of 10.5%.

The Congress main support base are Kerala’s Muslim and Christian communities, which together constitute 45% of the state’s population. It also enjoys support of sections of the Hindu population.

Among the Hindus of the state, the dominant Other Backward Classes community of Ezhavas traditionally support the CPI(M), while the upper-caste Nairs have been largely Congress supporters.

It is the votes of these two communities that the BJP was eyeing in the 2016 polls. While it could not garner many Ezhava votes, it won a fair share of Nair votes, denting the Congress’ chances and opened its account in the state.

Political observer and former Congress leader Cherian Philip, believes that BJP’s strategy will not reap further dividends in Kerala. “The CPI(M) had foiled its [the BJP’s] attempt to win the Ezhava votes,” he said. “The Congress had suffered erosion of votes from the Nair community. Nair community is known for tactical voting and they will help Congress if it has a chance to reclaim power. The BJP will not get more Nair votes than what it got in 2016.”

Unlike in other states, the Congress also has a strong organisational presence in Kerala. The party has thousands of active booth-level committees, and it has greater grass-roots presence than the BJP.

“Congress-led United Democratic Front is functioning as a constructive Opposition in Kerala,” said Sudheeran. “All our leaders and elected representatives enjoy excellent connect with the people.”

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president MM Hassan said Congress would remain the strongest political party in Kerala. “Those who are dreaming about end of Congress in Kerala are living in a fool’s paradise,” he said. “The divisive politics of the BJP will not work here. The secular society of Kerala will always stand with us.”

Minority votes

By highlighting the political murders in Kerala and raising alarm over “Red-Jihadi terror” in the state, the BJP hopes to consolidate the Hindu vote. The Kannur district has been the hotbed of political violence in the state. While the BJP has claimed that its members have primarily been the target of this violence, according to police data, there have been 69 political murders in the district between 2000 and 2016, with 31 victims from the Sangh and 30 from CPI(M).

Philip said the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva campaign was unlikely to work and could in fact hamper its growth in the state. “It will result in the consolidation of minority votes,” claimed the leader, who has been a CPI(M) supporter since his exit from the Congress. “That is why I said CPI(M) and Congress will never lose significance in Kerala,” he said. “The BJP can always dream of a distant third place.”

The BJP too is worried about the consolidation of minority votes and has been trying to woo the the Christian community in the state since Party President Amit Shah’s visit to Kerala in June, when he held talks with Church leaders. Later, during the reshuffle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet in September, Kerala BJP leader Alphons Kannanthanam was made minister of state, a surprise induction said to be aimed at drawing Christian votes.

Philip said Kannanthanam’s induction into the cabinet would not help the BJP woo the community. “Around 75% of Christian votes go to the Congress and various factions of Kerala Congress, while the remaining votes go to the Left Democratic Front,” he said. “The BJP cannot dream of consolidating Christian votes just by making Alphons a union minister.”

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

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, 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.