Who is behind the successive food poisoning of poor school children?
Do I see conspiracies everywhere? Perhaps I do. But this one is not original it’s come from a much respected senior journalist from . But this one is not original it’s come from a senior much respected senior journalist from main stream English media and I alone can’t be blamed for reckless “kite flying” stream English media and I alone can’t be blamed for reckless “kite flying.” Or BJP/Narendra Modi phobia. Since I don’t have my friend’s permission to mention her name, I take the credit. But isn’t it curious that within a week we have reports from all over the country, sans BJP ruled states, debunking the mid-day meal scheme and even more. My journalist friend seems to be making a valid point.
First came reports of 22 school children in Saran district of Bihar dying of food poisoning. Even while the Bihar Education minister P K Shahi (the same man whose family relations to the Jharkhand judge were citied by Lalu Prasad to seek transfer of the case alleging his involvement in the Fodder scam to another court, which the Jharkhand High Court rejected, but is now pending with the apex court) adopted the easy course of blaming a Yadav for poisoning the food deliberately to sabotage the scheme.
The same day reports also came of 50 children in Madhubani district also reporting sick after consuming their lunch at the school. So far it was Bihar and therefore Shahi or chief minister Nitish Kumar had a reason to suspect political rival Lalu Prasad’s party to be behind this attempt to bring disrepute to their governance. But Shahi who had a good equation with the BJP not too long ago and even Nitish didn’t ponder over the fact that Narendra Modi’s warning to Nitish Kumar to face the consequences of “Betraying the confidence of the people” inso far as to break the alliance with the BJP, is not even a fortnight old. A day after that warning came the Bodh Gaya blasts by a “readily cooperative” Indian Mujahideen and barely had the dust settled on that than this terrible tragedy overtook that event.
But if this had been confined to Bihar there was every reason to suspect a Lalu hand in all this. But there emerges a pattern which can hardly be ignored. A day after Bihar a 100 school girls in Neyveli town of Tamil Nadu reported sick after consuming an egg meal. The next day 39 children in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district reported sick after consuming the cooked food served to them by the school authorities and reports suggested that scorpions were detected in the plates of school children.
The same day Delhi government’s initiative to administer iron pills to the growing girls backfired with 23 girls reporting sick after taking the iron pills. The much publicized programme of chief minister Sheila Dikshit to combat anemia among the poor ill fed children, crashed within hours of its commencement. The same day 130 children in Maharashtra complained of nausea and stomach ache after taking iron, folic pills, with the same political fallout for an otherwise clean state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Is there a pattern discernible in all this? Yes, these are all non-BJP states and even Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha whose soft corner for Narendrabhai is well known, prefers to align with the Left than entertain the fantasy of the saffron brigade of finding a foot hold in the prime Southern state, Modi or no Modi. As for the others, while Nitish has only recently broken off from the BJP, Naveen Patnaik has been disdainful of the Sanghi brigade since he broke off after Kandhamal. The other two Delhi and Maharashtra are anyway Congress ruled states.
So what is the inference? This whole food poisoning is aimed at demonstrating a) that sans the saffron brigade none can deliver good governance, an oft repeated refrain of Modi and L K Advani; b) that the Central government is squandering crores on so called pro poor schemes and in the name of the poor the money is going into the pockets of the corrupt politicians. What has not been stated but only implied is that all the money being “squandered” on schemes like this mid-day meal, or MNREGA or now the proposed Food Security Bill should have been spent on accelerating economic reforms and liberalizing the Indian economy to give the necessary fillip to the market.
It is a fact that the UPA government, thanks largely to its chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s world view has repudiated the NDA/Modi perspective of growth and instead tried to distinguish its growth as “inclusive” and its reforms having a “human face” which has been resented by the promoters of market forces (read Shekhar Gupta, IE, 20/7/13): The deformists. Be it the Anna Hazare agitation supposedly for the Lokpal Bill or Baba Ramdev or Arvind Kejriwal the crowds they draw are those who oppose reservations, resent MNREGA and have disdain for the proposed Food Security Bill.
This section has therefore turned against the Congress and resents any secular pro-poor policies which aim at maintaining some equilibrium in Government spendings or which aim at ameliorating the sufferings of the under privileged classes inhabiting mainly rural India. Narendra Modi is the hero of such rising classes. It is also true that there are many flaws in the mid-day meal scheme, what with constraints of resources which do not allow employing enough manpower which could properly supervise to ensure healthy meals for the school going children. That implies the nation needs to put more funds at the disposal of such schemes.
But all said and done there are many more have-nots in the country and evidently more for consolidating her political constituency, Sonia Gandhi has attempted to send across the message to these masses that the Government cares for them and most political parties see these sections as bigger vote base than the articulate, suave TV channel hopping NAMO brigade. The real threat to the vaulting ambition of the Sangh parivar comes from this vast multitude of mute voters.
The poisoning of mid-day meal will have a double effect. On the one hand poor parents will henceforth hesitate sending their children to school, thereby reducing the scope of competition for the “Meritorius” children of the chatterati opposed to any reservation. On the other hand it will give Modi a handle to prove that those opposed to him don’t really care for the poor and are only filling up their coffers in the name of the poor. This will naturally disenchant and demoralize the vote base perceived as anti Modi or unimpressed by Modi so far. So now, who is behind this sudden spurt in poisoning the poor? And by the way let us not forget the 1998 Delhi assembly wherein Sushma Swaraj was leading the BJP as the chief minister of the national capital. Suddenly on the polling day the poor slum dwellers of Gautam Nagar fell sick after consuming some ‘prasad’ and in the resulting panic there was very low polling of the poor constituency whereas the occupants of Gulmohar Park, Niti Bagh, Anand Lok and Uday Park came out in large numbers to vote for Sushma. She won her assembly seat but soon quit because the Congress won the state. Soon thereafter there was repoll in that constituency and the BJP lost. Since then the slums have been removed and now there is no fear of BJP losing.