Patna: After opposition parties, including the Left, raised serious concerns over the Bihar government’s focus – that it has been giving more thought to the upcoming assembly elections than the COVID-19 fight – others have echoed them.
On Saturday, former Janata Dal-United (JD(U)) leader and poll-strategist, Prashant Kishor, also questioned the Bihar government’s focus. Earlier, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation and the CPI had expressed their concerns. The parties had accused the state government of neglecting the fight against COVID-19 and said it was working more towards the upcoming polls.
With COVID-19 cases and associated deaths rising, a sense of fear is growing across the state after more than a dozen district authorities imposed a lockdown again. Kishor has warned Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, advising him to not to go ahead with the polls and requested him to focus on fighting COVID-19.
Kishor took to Twitter on Saturday and said: “Nitish Kumarji, this isn't the time to fight elections but the coronavirus. Don't endanger people's lives in the hurry to hold the elections.”
Kishor added that “the coronavirus situation in Bihar is worsening like it is in many other states of the country. But a big part of government machinery and resources are busy making preparation for the polls”.
The former JD(U) man has echoed what the RJD, Congress and Lok Janshakti Party (a ruling alliance member) had said.
On Tuesday, Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav said that his party, the RJD, was not in favour of elections being held as scheduled in view of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state. “This is not the right time to conduct an election. Does Nitish Kumar want to hold an election on dead bodies? The government must focus on dealing with the pandemic to save people lives,” he said.
Tejashwi was among the first leaders to raise the issue. “The state government is neither serious nor concerned about the rising cases and the deaths – it is busy with election preparations. Why is Nitish Kumar in a hurry to hold polls? Is he afraid of President's rule in the state?” the RJD leader asked.
Tejashwi further accused the state government of hiding data pertaining to COVID-19 infections in the state and ignoring the deteriorating situation on the ground. He warned that if the government did not wake up to the COVID-19 fight, the situation may become dire in August or by September.
CPI (M) state secretary Avadesh Kumar said that instead of making all efforts to control the novel coronavirus infection, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and JD-U are busy preparing for elections, saying that the two parties were organising virtual rallies and doing everything to manipulate the democratic process. “Our party wants to ensure the participation of common people in the polls and to provide an equal playing field or an opportunity for all political parties to fight elections. Bihar is going through a difficult period and the state government should call an all party meeting to discuss how to deal with the crisis and reach a consensus on whether the elections will be held on time, or not,” he added.
He said the CPI (M) will protest against any move to compromise with democratic processes ahead of the polls.
CPI (ML) leader Dhirendra Jha said that the people's safety is the main concern and that the party has been demanding the state government to go in for more testing, tracing and treatment to fight against COVID-19. “We are putting pressure on the government to ramp up the testing rate which has been very low so far. If the government fails to control the spread of the infection and the situation deteriorates further in the coming weeks, conducting elections will be risky,” he said.
Jha said it was up to the Election Commission (EC) to take the ground reality into consideration and not hold elections at the cost of putting lives of people in danger.
Congress leader Premchandra Mishra said the government should not waste its resources on preparations to hold polls, but use its resources to ramp up the testing rate which is the lowest in the country. “Elections can wait, people’s lives cannot. The government should first take care of people but its focus is to hold polls by ignoring the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, part of the ruling alliance, joined the opposition RJD on Friday in demanding for a deferral of the state assembly polls in light of COVID-19. In a series of tweets, Chirag Paswan, son of Ram Vilas, made it clear that he was not in favour of elections as it may pose a serious health risk to a large population.
The LJP is said to be unhappy with its allies, the BJP and JD-U, ahead of polls.
However, BJP and JD-U leaders said it was the decision of the EC to hold elections on time.
“JD-U is working to reach out to people; we are confident of their support. Our leader Nitish Kumar, who is the face of the NDA, enjoys overwhelming support in the state. He is the most popular leader, there is no match for him,” said JD-U leader Nikhil Mandal.
BJP leader Nikhil Anand said the RJD is afraid of going to polls because it has lost its support base."The RJD is not ready for polls as its defeat is certain,” he opined.
Political commentator D.M. Diwakar said the concerns of the opposition should be taken seriously. “The opposition is right in trying to expose the fact that the government is hell bent on conducting the polls. In the process, fighting COVID-19 has become secondary,” he said.
Ghalib Kaleem, a political activist from Bihar, said the NDA government has failed to check and control the spread of COVID-19 and that its only motive at the moment is to take advantage of government machinery and resources amid a pandemic to hold polls without the participation of common people. “Elections should take place early next year, in February and March, because at present it is fraught with risk to involve people in the polls,” he added.
The BJP had launched a virtual rally last month amid the pandemic, and is going all out in trying to reach out to people from urban and rural areas online. Party leaders are busy holding face-to-face virtual contact sessions on a daily basis; the JD-U is also not lagging behind in holding virtual rallies either.
As of this moment, Bihar has 16,305 cases of COVID-19, with 1,226 cases added on July 12.