#PollVault: Congress Looks to Minimum Healthcare Guarantee, BJP to Modi Biopic

A repository of the day's major election-related developments.

Every morning till the elections, The Wire‘s reporters and editors bring you Poll Vault – a summary of the most important political developments, all in one place. To get it straight in your mailbox, sign up here

New Delhi: A day after a top Congress spokesperson, Tom Vadakkan, joined the BJP, Congress president Rahul Gandhi dismissed the defection, saying that Vadakkan is ‘not a big leader’. Vadakkan claimed he was ‘deeply hurt’ after he realised the Congress worked ‘against national interest’ when it ‘questioned the integrity of the armed forces’ over the Balakot airstrike.

While there were no major defections on Friday from the opposition parties to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold, the ruling party lost a Patidar leader in Gujarat. Reshma Patel, one of the faces of the Patidar movement and a former close aide of Hardik Patel, resigned from the BJP and said that she has approached the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for a Lok Sabha ticket from Porbanadar. Earlier, Patel had quit the Patidar reservation stir in Gujarat and joined the BJP prior to the 2017 assembly elections in the state.

However, earlier this week the Congress lost three MLAs in Gujarat who defected to the BJP. Since January 2019, a total of five Congress MLAs have joined the BJP, reducing the Congress’s strength in the Vidhan Sabha from 77 to 72.

As we inch closer to the elections, defections have proved to be a major headache for opposition parties. According to a report in the Indian Express on Friday, as many as 28 leaders have defected to the BJP in the past one month in Uttar Pradesh alone. These include politicians from the Samajwadi Party, Congress, Rashtriya lok Dal and Bahujan Samaj party.

Also read | In Uttar Pradesh, Defections to BJP Have Weakened the Opposition’s Alliance

While BSP chief Mayawati remains opposed to the idea of including the Congress in its UP mahagathbandhan with the SP, she announced on Friday an alliance with the Pawan Kalyan-led Jana Sena in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The new alliance will contest the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh and the Lok Sabha elections in Telangana.

Kalyan said that he would like to see Mayawati as the prime minister of the country. Mayawati returned the favour and said that she would like Kalyan to be the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

Meanwhile, the BJP continued forging alliances and announced a formal tie-up with ally Apna Dal, which has a presence in pockets of eastern UP. The Apna Dal will contest two seats. The party had earlier expressed displeasure with its senior alliance partner, claiming that it was not given its fair share of power in the UP government despite winning nine seats in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha election.

In Delhi, the young leader of the Dalit rights organisation Bhim Army, Chandrashekhar Azad, announced that he will be contesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi. Earlier this week, Azad had met with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi, but insisted that no electoral talks had taken place between the two. In his short political career, Azad has spent nearly a year in jail after the BJP government in UP arrested him under the draconian National Security Act.

Ayushman vs Right to Health

Speaking at a rally in Raipur, Rahul Gandhi said that the Congress could include the promise of a ‘Right to Healthcare Act’ which would guarantee ‘certain minimum healthcare’ to each citizen. He also spoke about increasing the education budget to 5-6% of GDP and the health budget to 3%.

Chairman of the Congress manifesto committee P. Chidambaram tweeted that the healthcare guarantee would include a ‘Right to Healthcare Act’, “including free diagnostics and medicines, through a network of public hospitals.”

Also read | Last Minute Uncertainty Dents Poll Prospects for Congress, BJP in Kerala

If the promise does make it to the manifesto of the Congress party in the form that Chidambaram articulated, it would be a contrast to the Modi government’s flagship Ayushman healthcare scheme which provides a cashless insurance coverage up to Rs 5 lakh per annum to each household.

A major failing of the scheme is that it fails to substantially address the issue of lack of quality primary health care infrastructure and service delivery in much of rural India. The Congress’ promise, in letter, could potentially aim to address that.

Film and model code

Meanwhile, a biopic on Narendra Modi which has been in the making for three months, got a release date on Friday. It will hit movie halls on April 12, a day after the first phase of polling. Eros Now has also announced a 10-part series on Modi which will be released in the end of April.

Congress’s student wing – National Students Union of India – in Goa has written to the Election Commission of India asking it to ban the Modi movie “during the election silence period that is two days prior to the day of voting.” The NSUI has argued that the movie is propaganda by the BJP to influence voters in the Lok Sabha elections.

That such a film will be shown and promoted during the elections demonstrates the joke and farce that the ‘model code of conduct’ is, said the historian Ramachandra Guha”. “How can the Election Commission allow it?” Calling for the Supreme Court to step in, Guha said, “Not since Indira Gandhi has an Indian prime minister so shamelessly misused state power to promote a cult of personality. If this continues unchecked, it will have ominous consequences for our democracy.”

Follow The Wire‘s complete coverage of the 2019 elections here.