The Ayushman Bharat Scheme propelled by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which aims to provide free healthcare up to Rupees five lakh per family member to some 10.74 crore households spread across India, has become a political issue over which the ruling BJP and its opponents are now sparring. The reason for this political dogfight is that Ayushman Bharat has the potential to be a determining electoral issue in the run up to the crucial assembly elections in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh later this year and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections thereafter.
The sheer numbers covered by this scheme, the biggest ever in the world, are compelling. There are 24.49 crore households in India, out of which 10.74 crore will be covered by this scheme, which will be launched on September 25, 2018, the birth anniversary of BJP inspiration Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya.
Some 76.29 percent of the covered households will be in rural areas. Now, the literature of the scheme carries a beaming picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the scheme itself has 'Pradhan Mantri" as part of its name, being called Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana.
Clearly, after September 25, 2018, there will be massive publicity for this scheme and before its success is tested on the ground, it will be time for the voters to cast their votes.
The point is that several of the states in India are ruled by political parties that are not with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The state governments pay 40% of the money for the scheme's implementation, and actually do the entire implementation. But the scheme gives maximum mileage to Mr Modi.
This is perhaps the reason why the Delhi Chief Minister, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, has moved the proposal that the scheme in the national capital should include the words "Aam Aadmi", which is the name of Kejriwal's party, and should also include the words "Mukhya Mantri", which is Kejriwal's designation. As expected, his proposal has been rejected.
The bottom line of the scheme is that it promises to provide free treatment for various ailments to the poor. However, other schemes providing similar benefits are operating across India in various states, covering crores of poor patients. So, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that she is happy with the scheme already running in her state.
In the end of August, 2018, Prime Minister Modi held a meeting of BJP Chief Ministers in Delhi where there were deliberations over the implementation of the Ayushman Bharat scheme. Clearly, if the non-BJP ruled states do not implement the Ayushman Bharat scheme, the BJP wishes to implement it well in the states ruled by it so that it can tell the voters that other parties have denied them a benefit which will come to them if they vote BJP.
Without going into the merits or demerits of such politics, it is indeed heartening that a pure health issue has become an electoral issue in the country, especially in the run up to a Lok Sabha election for electing a new government at the Centre.
If Ayushman Bharat does indeed become an electoral issue, that will be all for the good, since its various aspects will be debated in public discussions, and something good will emerge from the debate. It is at the time of elections that people have a voice to decide the course of policy. If the voters get a chance to vote on Ayushman Bharat, rather than on identity politics, that will be a blessing for our democracy. Health issues were prominently highlighted in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. They are again dominating the discourse in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.