Patna: A day after the Election Commission reiterated that the next Assembly elections in Bihar will be held on time later this year, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the state is a house divided. Opposition parties including Left parties had repeatedly questioned why the state government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wanted to go ahead with the elections instead of focussing on the fight against COVID-19 and neglecting the misery of over 7.5 million people affected by the floods.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally Lok Janshakti Party’s (LJP) founder, chief and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Tuesday demanded deferment of the Assembly polls in view of the rapid surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths.”In our view, the Assembly polls should be deferred for now. We don't know whether the President's rule will be imposed or other steps will be taken but lives of the poor should not be put in danger by holding elections on time in the wake of surging COVID cases,” Paswan said.
He added there was uncertainty over the pandemic situation. “No one knows how long it will continue. In such a situation, [if the polls are held] thousands of government staff members and school teachers will be engaged as polling officers. Thousands of security personnel will be deployed, which will increase the danger of the spread of the virus,” he said.
Paswan’s stand came as no surprise in political circles here as his son and LJP president Chirag Paswan has repeatedly demanded deferment of the Assembly polls amid the pandemic. Chirag echoes the view of the Opposition, mainly that of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav.
The LJP had written a letter to the Election Commission saying it is not advisable to put lives of lakhs of people at risk by holding elections at this time.
Chirag went to the extent of announcing that his party is ready and preparing to contest from all 243 Assembly seats, but elections should not be held ignoring the high risk to people's lives due to the pandemic. However, it is significant that for the first time, his father has favoured imposition of President rule over the scheduled elections.
Earlier, Bihar Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav had said: “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’s lives.”
Tejashwi was among the first leaders to raise the issue. “The state government is neither serious nor concerned about the rising cases and deaths. It is busy with election preparations. Why is Nitish Kumar in a hurry to hold polls? Is he afraid of the President's rule in the state?” the RJD leader had questioned.
Political experts here have opined that this could be an attempt by the LJP to sideline Nitish Kumar JD-U, and help the BJP.
According to BJP leaders here, the party state leaders are also divided over holding elections on time on the basis of its internal feedback from leaders and workers. However, a senior BJP leader admitted that if elections are deferred the President’s rule is imposed, BJP will get an opportunity to either get rid of Nitish Kumar, who has become very unpopular, or make him realise that he no longer is the big brother.
Another BJP leader said that the party had launched a virtual rally last month amid the pandemic, to reach out to people from urban and rural areas online. But when it was reported that dozens of party leaders and workers tested COVID-19 positive, BJP slowed down its campaign and has decided to make it a low-key affair.
With the number of COVID-19 cases crossing the 82,000-mark in Bihar and with more than 450 deaths in the state as of now, the state is heading to the eighth position behind Telangana as per the government of India’s official data on COVID-19. The recovery rate stands at 65.43%.
Bihar has increased COVID testing rate in the last few days. Bihar has been testing more than 75,000 samples for COVID-19 on August 10, for the fourth consecutive day, a record in itself. Most of the testing is being done through rapid antigen detection (RAD) kits instead of the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) kits, Bihar’s Principal Health Secretary Pratyay Amrit has revealed.
Besides the pandemic, Bihar is also dealing with floods. As per the official data, more than 74 lakh people have been affected by floods in 16 districts of Bihar so far.
The government has evacuated more than 5 lakh people till date from marooned villages. But thousands of displaced flood victims have taken shelter on high-rise embankments and National Highways.
Officials said there have been 24 deaths due to floods in the state.
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