The exit of former Union health minister Harsh Vardhan from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new team, right when the country is preparing for the third wave of Covid-19, came as a surprise to many. After all, it was only recently that the prime minister had praised the health ministry for its quick decisions regarding the handling of the pandemic.
Harsh Vardhan’s resignation came soon after his colleagues education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and labour minister Santosh Gangwar stepped down from their posts. This means big-ticket vacancies to be filled by new inductees as both education and health are crucial portfolios amid the raging pandemic.
This is also the second time Harsh Vardhan was shown the door from the cabinet. He was in the post for seven months in 2014, after the PM Modi government came to power. From November 2014 to the end of the first term of the Modi government, JP Nadda was the health minister. In 2019, as the PM Modi government came back to power for the second time, Harsh Vardhan was given the responsibility of this department again.
Harsh Vardhan, an MP from Chandni Chowk in Delhi, is an ENT surgeon. He was also Delhi’s health minister in the ’90s and played a crucial role in the Pulse Polio programme.
The Covid-19 pandemic proved to be a bugbear for Harsh Vardhan, with many criticising his “absence” at crucial junctures.
In a surprise of sorts, though, the Opposition — which was involved in a war of words with the former health minister over shortage of vaccines —- came out in his defence as news of his resignation hogged headlines.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh took to Twitter and said Harsh Vardhan had been made a scapegoat for “monumental failures at the highest level — nowhere else”. The Congress leader also said the former health minister is a good man.
Congress leader Randeep Surjewala too extended defence for Dr Harsh Vardhan and said the National Disaster Management Authority, headed by PM Modi, is responsible for the criminal mismanagement of Covid-19.
Around the world, health ministers have been in the news since the pandemic has assumed massive proportions. For instance, Brazil has seen four health ministers since the beginning of the pandemic. The Czech Republic has got five health ministers since the beginning of Covid-19. The United Kingdom too saw its health minister resigning after being embroiled in a controversy where he flouted social distancing norms.