Billed for change
The illusion of participation
Billed for change
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of amendments to the National Medical Commission bill.
(GS paper II)
- The Union Cabinet had approved six out of the dozens of changes to the contentious National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill that were suggested by a Parliamentary Standing Committee earlier this month. These changes address some of the loudest criticisms of the Bill.
- Among the amendments, the final year MBBS exam is now merged with an exit exam for doctors, and a contentious bridge course for AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Homeopathy) practitioners has been axed. Health-care experts had recommended other modifications, which the Cabinet ignored.
- For example, despite the Cabinet’s amendments, the NMC, the regulatory body that will replace the Medical Council of India, will be heavily controlled by the government. Its members are to be picked by a search committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary, while the Central government is to be the appellate body for those aggrieved by the NMC’s decisions. The parliamentary committee had batted for an independent appellate body.
- The amendments cleared by the Cabinet also increase State representation in the NMC from three part-time members to six, in what seems like a gesture to please the States. Contrast this with the parliamentary committee’s recommendation to include 10 State representatives, given India’s vastness.
- Another amendment that doesn’t go far enough is the decision to raise the proportion of private college seats for which fees will be regulated from 40% to 50%. The fees for unregulated seats could then skyrocket, pushing poorer medical aspirants out of the system.
- if these amendments are passed by Parliament, then the legislation will mark a new era for medical education in India. The next step will be to design rules and regulations that capture the intent of this law. This itself will be a massive challenge.
- India faces logistical difficulty of conducting a common final year MBBS examination across the country, which needs to be overcome. Multiple-choice questions are easy to administer, but testing the range of theoretical knowledge and practical skills expected of medical graduates is more difficult.
- With the new amendments States now have the freedom to implement an AYUSH bridge course, even if no longer mandatory. How will the Centre ensure the quality of such courses to prevent a new set of poorly trained doctors from emerging? The coming days may see many more protests against the NMC Bill, perhaps delaying its passage and prompting further discussion.
Question– Discuss how amendments to the National Medical Council Bill, will mark a new era for medical education in India?
The illusion of participation
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the culture of mass ‘following’ on social media.
(GS paper III)
- Recent case of Cambridge Analytica shows the social media to be proved a powerful political media. In its moment of embarrassment, Facebook has given the entire world a reason to pause and ponder.
- The Canadian economist and philosopher Harold Innis book ‘The Bias of Communication’, first published in 1951, he was interested in examining the nature of a medium or technology of communication as a factor of social order. He studied the history of ancient empires and their decline by focusing on the technology of communication they used.
- Innis used ‘space’ and ‘time’ as basic sources of bias in different media of communication developed down the ages. Some, like rock inscriptions, manuscripts copied by hand, and orally stored epics were biased, in Innis’s view, towards stability over long periods of time.
- On the other hand, newspapers, radio and television were examples of space-bias technology. They reach out to vast territories, but the content or message does not last long. He studied different empires and concluded that the ones that developed a balance between space and time attained higher civilizational goals.
- The Internet and the mobile phone seem heavily ‘space-biased’ in Innisian terms. Their reach is extraordinarily wide and fast, but the messages conveyed through them need relentless repetition, suggesting ephemeral value. This disbalance gets magnified in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They provide huge followings to users, and, in the same measure, they create short-lived ripples that titillate and excite the public space on a constant basis. This duality explains the attraction they exercise despite the risk their users face of being manipulated.
- The rise of these social media companies has coincided with major changes in the nature of the state and its duties towards citizens. Surveillance as a means of providing safety has gained acceptability even legitimacy in many parts of the world.
- In the industrially advanced bastions of liberal democracy, a sharp change in public willingness to put up with, even appreciate, the state’s ominous presence in every sphere of life has come about. This accommodating public mood has prompted the tendency among political leaders to seek more and more authority and means to create a centralized system to wield it.
- Advances in communication technology have encouraged systems of governance to concentrate decision-making power at the higher rungs, leaving compliance and implementation to people placed at the lower rungs.
Democracy as model
- Democracy is one such institution. It is based on the idea of participation of the largest number of people, even if that slows down decision-making. On the face of it, social media creates the illusion of maximal participation, but in reality it promotes the culture of mass ‘following’. The millions who comprise the ‘following’ of leaders can hardly be called participants in decision-making.
- This model of communication has smoothly pushed American democracy towards an unfamiliar wilderness. Its electoral process compromised by manipulation of voters’ minds by use of authentic data they have themselves provided the U.S. faces a deep vulnerability, from within itself. Signs of political neurosis are all too obvious.
- In India the use of digital technology to give every citizen a unique identity number is creating new daily challenges for stemming the centralisation of authority. Whatever the highest court decides in the Aadhaar case, it can hardly avoid noticing the centripetal energies fast grabbing our democracy. Of course, these wider tendencies can’t be attributed to Aadhaar.
- Long before Nandan Nilekani had gifted this shiny toy to the nation, ostensibly meant to improve the the state’s capacity to serve the poor, the problem of handling data about common people with integrity was quite familiar to the lower functionaries managing elections.
- In all likelihood, both Facebook and American democracy will survive the rough weather they are facing. It is equally likely that they will learn little from this experience. This is because their financial investments in the new communication order are heavy and will not allow withdrawal or slowdown in use.
- An element of destiny has already crept in. As an institution, social media is in its infancy, but it has already acquired an ideological temper. It wields the power of crowds that are ready to lynch its critics. A substantial part of the population of youth across the world inhabits social media platforms, giving companies like Facebook and Twitter an amount of cultural power rather unique in corporate history. The use of these platforms by office-holding politicians adds to their mighty claim to neutrality.
- It is reasonable to hope that revelations of the kind made recently about misuse of personal data by Facebook and Cambridge Analytica will continue to rock the established systems of public communication, on one hand, and, on the other, the exercise of command by those in authority. An eventual opportunity for a new equilibrium and sanity to prevail is imminent.
Question– By promoting the culture of mass ‘following’, social media are shaking the foundations of democracy. Explain along with recent case of Cambridge Analytica.