The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Punjab is scrambling to quell the controversy involving state Health Minister Chetan Singh Jouramajra and Dr Raj Bahadur, the vice-chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences (BFUHS) who has since resigned, hoping to placate the reputed orthopaedic surgeon.
Sources said that Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann spoke to Dr Bahadur late Friday night to pacify him, however, he did not withdraw the resignation. “The CM has asked him to meet him on Monday. The issue would only be sorted on Monday,” a source said, adding that Mann is busy with a narcotics conclave underway at Punjab Raj Bhawan on Saturday and will be visiting Sunam and Sangrur on Sunday.
The AAP government in Punjab was recently criticised by the Opposition over Anmol Rattan Singh Sidhu’s resignation as advocate general. In the latest controversy, Jouramajra on Friday forced Dr Bahadur to lie down on a grimy mattress in front of staff and patients during an inspection at Guru Gobind Singh Medical College and Hospital (GGSMCH) in Faridkot. A video of Jouramajra snubbing the V-C in public went viral Friday evening.
Hours later, the V-C shot off his resignation to the chief minister. The chief minister’s office worked till late on Friday night, as part of firefighting efforts, but Dr Bahadur did not withdraw the resignation. In alleged solidarity with him, Dr Rajiv Devgan and Dr K D Singh, also resigned from their posts as principal-director of Government Medical College, Amritsar and medical superintendent of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital, which is associated with Government Medical College, Amritsar, respectively, citing personal reasons. Both sent their resignation letters on Friday.
I couldn’t see eye to eye with Dr Raj Bahadur Ji, as there was helplessness in his eyes. It was not he who felt insulted and humiliated, but all of us together. Entire Punjab stands in solidarity with you, Sir. pic.twitter.com/CxPY2aU4Jp
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) July 30, 2022
Government sources also said that there was a technicality involved in Dr Bahadur’s resignation, saying that he has to tender his resignation to the governor, not the chief minister.
Following Dr Bahadur’s resignation, social media has been abuzz with posts deploring the conduct of the health minister. The alumni of Medical College Shimla, the alma mater of Dr Bahadur, also sent a memorandum to Mann, condemning the “unwanted, unbecoming and deplorable behaviour of the health minister”.
A government functionary said that Dr Bahadur was known for his service and was at the forefront during the Covid pandemic. “He has worked hard in the university. The educational institute has gone from number 3 to number 1 in Punjab. It is all due to his efforts. He is also the only doctor on the National Medical Council from the state. If we want to take Punjab’s side to the panel, he is the right person. If the government wants him to leave only because he was on good terms with previous chief ministers, then there is a way to tell him (that),” the functionary said.
The controversy involving Dr Bahadur, who belongs to Himachal Pradesh, also hurts the AAP at a time when it is planning to make inroads into the state in the upcoming Assembly elections.
Soon after his resignation, the alumni of Medical College Shimla, the alma mater of Dr Bahadur, sent a memorandum to the Punjab CM. It read, “We, the alumni of the 1970 batch of the Medical College Shimla, Himachal Pradesh and professional colleagues of Prof Raj Bahadur, VC, Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, strongly condemn the unwanted, unbecoming and deplorable behaviour of the health minister with Prof Bahadur that took place on 29 July 2022.”
The memorandum pointed out that Dr Bahadur has an unblemished career spanning five decades. “His professional acumen and dedicated selfless services to the community have been recognised nationally and internationally. His numerous patients, colleagues and students will vouch for his absolute integrity and unflinching commitment. A life-long work par excellence should not be demolished by the vagaries of ill-informed and biased Health Minister,” it added.
The memorandum further said that doctors are “ONLY mediators of implementing your political commitment into changes at the ground”. “Antagonising the medical fraternity shall be counter-productive for any efficient administration. Uncalled for behaviour by your health minister with one of the most esteemed and renowned doctors does not augur well for enthusiastic response by the health professionals in Panjab,” it said, urging Mann to take “appropriate action” against Jouramajra.