The South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) or the Malabe private medical college issue seems to have reached an impasse. The government and the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), the main contenders are intransigent and sticking to their respective stances on this matter. The GMOA is demanding the closure of the private medical college, while the government is rigidly opposed to such a demand.
If the demonstration and the storming of the Health Ministry office at Maradana by medical students last week on this matter were aimed at attracting public attention to their struggle, they had achieved it, irrespective of whether they were able to muster any more public support with such unruly behaviour. The same question applies to the subsequent work stoppage by the GMOA on the next day over the SAITM issue and as a protest against the attack on the demonstrating students.
The SAITM issue has been highly politicized with the leaders of the previous government led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had provided loans and scholarships to the SAITM now taking a 180 degree turn and supporting the struggles by the university students and the government doctors. Therefore people, like the demonstrating students and the doctors have also have taken a stance on this matter in line with their political party alignments and seem to be unable or refusing to look at it objectively.
Hence, it is difficult now for the doctors and the students to muster more support to their “struggle” through demonstrations and strikes that have become exceedingly annoying and inconveniencing the people. And the government is also struggling to contain the situation while attempting to justify its stance. After all, the situation is such that it has surpassed the limits of intellectual discourse and entered a stage of might is right.
The media was divided in reporting last week’s students’ demonstration inside the Health Ministry premises with some of them showing images of the pandemonium that reigned inside the premises while the others, especially the State media highlighting the damage done to the ministry buildings and the vehicles parked in the premises.
The doctors, students and opposition politicians condemned the government for the “brutal” attack on the students while conveniently ignoring the vandalism and the unruly behaviour by the students. However, the students did not deny allegations of vandalism either. The STF Chief alleged that the STF personnel who were admitted to the Colombo National Hospital (CNH) after being injured while attempting to quell the violence during the demonstration had not been treated even after three hours by the doctors on duty. This had compelled him to take the injured personnel to the police hospital. This allegation of course had been denied by the CNH Director.
State media, on the other hand highlighted the hooliganism by the students while being indifferent to the severity of the attack on the students. Meanwhile, the politically divided masses are also attempting to justify their respective views without looking at the incident objectively.
Negotiations on the matter are being held apparently to impose the rigid view points of one party on the other and not to arrive at a consensus through a compromise. If the compromise is considered always as a defeat, there cannot be a solution to any problem. This is a very unfortunate situation. It will further encourage the respective parties to cross the “Lakshman Rekha” whenever they want to and aggravate the situation even further.
The respective parties now have to look at the issue afresh. They must give up their egos and dogmas as the SAITM issue appears to be taking the country, though slowly at the moment, towards a situation like the one which prevailed in 1988/89, because it too is being highly politicized.