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23 February 2017 Editorial

 

23 FEBRUARY 2017

A battle lost?

Going against the status quo to take a progressive decision is always a difficult endeavour in politics or in government. Such decisions yield enthusiastic support from those in favour of change; at the same time, they invite strong responses from reactionary sections. The right thing to do for any politician seeking to embark on change is to not give in to resistance after making the decision. T.R. Zeliang, who recently stepped down as the Chief Minister of Nagaland, had taken the bold decision to conduct long-pending urban local body elections on February 1 with 33% reservation for women in accordance with the 74th Amendment to the Constitution. The move, predictably, resulted in strong opposition from tribal groups who sought to use the issue of Naga autonomy as a ploy to resist it. Mr. Zeliang should have stuck to his government’s order and sought more public acceptance by rallying the many in favour — in particular, Naga women who would have finally got their constitutionally mandated stake in local governance. Instead, he chose to take a U-turn and termed the implementation of the decision as “null and void”, emboldening tribal organisations to demand his resignation. Following a series of agitations by two tribal groups, the Joint Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, Mr. Zeliang finally resigned, but not before some drama was played out in the ruling Naga People’s Front.

It was clear that Mr. Zeliang was being pressured to resign not just by status quoists among tribal groups but also by his rivals in the NPF. Some legislators were seeking the return of the former Chief Minister and MP, Neiphiu Rio, who had been suspended from the party last year on grounds of “anti-party activities”. Immediately, in what is now becoming a routine act in Indian politics following any intra-ruling party intrigue, the legislators were taken to a resort in Kaziranga and confined there to prevent defections. Fearing a split, Mr. Zeliang resigned, and the party’s senior leader and supremo Shurhozelie Liezietsu was nominated as the 11th Chief Minister of the State by 42 of the 49 NPF legislators. Just before Mr. Liezietsu was sworn in on Wednesday the agitation was called off by the tribal organisations, signalling an end to this round of turmoil. But the NPF-led coalition under the leadership of Mr. Liezietsu has its task cut out. It has to clearly assert its authority as the ruling establishment in the State. It must also focus its energies on the Naga peace process, which remains unresolved despite the reported signing of an accord between the Centre and insurgent groups in 2015. 

 

 

Ageing with dignity

While India’s celebrated demographic dividend has for decades underpinned its rapid economic progress, a countervailing force may offset some of the gains from having a relatively young population: rapid ageing at the top end of the scale. This is a cause of deep concern for policymakers as India already has the world’s second largest population of the elderly, defined as those above 60 years of age. As this 104-million-strong cohort continues to expand at an accelerating pace, it will generate enormous socio-economic pressures as the demand for healthcare services and tailored accommodation spikes to historically unprecedented levels. It is projected that approximately 20% of Indians will be elderly by 2050, marking a dramatic jump from the current 6%. However, thus far, efforts to develop a regime of health and social care that is attuned to the shifting needs of the population have been insufficient. While more mature economies have created multiple models for elder care, such as universal or widely accessible health insurance, networks of nursing homes, and palliative care specialisations, it is hard to find such systemic developments in India. Experts also caution that as the proportional size of the elderly population expands, there is likely to be a shift in the disease patterns from communicable to non-communicable, which itself calls for re-gearing the health-care system toward “preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative aspects of health”.

Advocacy and information campaigns may be necessary to redirect social attitudes toward ageing, which often do not help the elderly enjoy a life of stability and dignity. As highlighted in ‘Uncertain Twilight’, a four-part series in The Hindu on the welfare of senior citizens, the ground realities faced by the elderly include abandonment by their families, destitution and homelessness, inability to access quality health care, low levels of institutional support, and the loneliness and depression associated with separation from their families. On the one hand, the traditional arrangements for the elderly in an Indian family revolve around care provided by their children. According to the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 2004 survey, nearly 3% of persons aged above 60 lived alone. The number of elderly living with their spouses was only 9.3%, and those living with their children accounted for 35.6%. However, as many among the younger generation within the workforce are left with less time, energy and willingness to care for their parents, or simply emigrate abroad and are unable to do so, senior citizens are increasingly having to turn to other arrangements. In the private sector, an estimated demand for 300,000 senior housing units, valued at over $1 billion, has led to a variety of retirement communities emerging across the country, in addition to innovations in healthcare delivery for this group. Yet the poor among the elderly still very much depend on the government to think creatively and come up with the resources and institutions to support their needs.

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