Patna: With the Election Commission of India (ECI) likely to announce dates for the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections in mid-September, there is not much enthusiasm among ordinary citizens. The consensus on the streets is that people are not in favour of conducting polls during October and November. They are apprehensive due to COVID-19 and anxious and uncertain due to their livelihoods taking a hit during the five-month lockdown period.
Unlike the common folk, Bihar’s ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders are over the moon given that the elections will be held on time. They have already sped up their ground work with opposition parties, including the Left, being forced to gear up for the polls with no other options. The parties repeatedly questioned why the state government, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, wanted to go ahead with the elections instead of focusing on the fight against COVID-19 and on helping over 8.3 million people affected by the floods in the state.
Nitish Kumar is set to address his first mega virtual rally on September 6 to kick-start the poll campaign. Janata Dal (United) (JD(U))) leaders claimed that 10 lakh people will join live on the digital platform developed for it.
J.P. Nadda, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national president, is set to address a meeting of the party MPs from the state on August 29 to finalise a strategy for the upcoming polls. He addressed a meeting of the executive committee of the party’s Bihar unit three days ago and gathered feedback.
Nadda is likely to address party workers, leaders and supporters after September 6 in a virtual rally. The BJP has already begun its door-to-door campaigning from August 25 in a bid to woo voters. Parties in opposition, including the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties are lagging behind however.
“Elections should not be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s priority should be people’s lives, not their votes. I fail to understand the ECI’s hurry to conduct polls and why the CM and his ally, the BJP, are adamant for polls on time, despite the fact that people are not ready for it,” said Raghunandan Singh, a trader whose business was badly affected by the pandemic.
Singh’s views were echoed by a customer, Rajesh Prasad, who stood outside the former’s shop in Chitkohra market, Patna. “Leaders in power are only concerned about their kursi (chair) they have no concern for common people. If millions of students are sitting idle due to closure of their educational institutions for months, thousands were rendered jobless and thousands are struggling for a livelihood, elections can be held later when the situation normalises,” said Prasad, a government employee.
Sugia Devi, a frail woman whose daily earning was reduced to less than half during the pandemic, expressed her anger as well. “Votwa karawela jaruri hai,electionwa to agla saal bhi ho saka hai ,itna bechaini ka hai.Hum garibwan ke kaam dhanda khatam hai ,pet bhare ke musibat hai.Sarkar ke pahle rozi-Roti dekhe ke chahi (What is the need for voting? Elections can be held next year too. What is the hurry? Us poor people have lost their livelihoods and cannot even feed ourselves properly. The government should first provide us with food and employment),” she said. Sugia and her husband were making a living by running a roadside eatery for the poor near Patna railway station. They largely serviced workers like rickshaw pullers and daily-wage labourers.
Farmers in the flood-affected of north Bihar are upset over the heavy loss of standing crops since July. “Our main concern is our livelihood, not the elections. Who will feed us; who will manage our family? An election during a pandemic is not the right move. It can take place next year,” said Suresh Mandal, a marginal farmer from Madhepura district.
And it not just the poor who wish the government would rather fight COVID-19 than be up for elections. “I have been without work since March; my earning is zero and I’ve been trying to manage life with whatever little saving I have. The CM has been busy in chalking out a strategy to return to power by conducting polls instead of fighting COVID-19 and providing a livelihood to all those rendered jobless,” said Ibrar Raza, whose coaching centre is closed as parents are not ready to send their children to educational institutions.
Manoj Yadav, a contractual school teacher in a government-run school, said the elections can wait till vaccines for COVID -19 hit the market. ‘Most of the parents are against the resumption of school next month due to fear. If elections are held on time, thousands of government officials, including teachers and security personnel, will be deployed for polling duty. It is bound to be a risk to their lives and voters are likely to spread the virus from the urban to the rural,” he added.
Dr. Ajay Kumar, the senior vice president of the Indian Medical Association in Bihar, said: “Personally, I am not in favour of holding polls in the given situation. Elections can be held early next year when the pandemic likely to be over. We all know that any kind of gathering or crowding is a big mistake.”
According to official estimates, more than six lakh officials, including security personnel, will be deployed to conduct polls in the state.
Keeping COVID-19 in mind, political watchers pointed out that voting percentages will be down this time around. In 2015, official data said 56.91% polling was recorded with no fear of a pandemic.
The number of COVID-19 cases is rising in Bihar. According to official data, there were 1,860 new cases on Thursday, taking the total number of cases to 1,28,850 with 642 deaths. Active COVID-19 cases were 21,431 in the state as on August 27.
Aside from the pandemic, Bihar is also dealing with floods. As per official data, more than 83 lakh people have been affected by floods in 16 districts of Bihar so far.
Officials said there have been 27 deaths due to floods in the state.