Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Filed Picture

In New Zealand, they have decided to put off the national election for a month, to begin with, after a second surge of coronavirus. In the US, the maverick Donald Trump would like nothing better than to be able to somehow postpone the polling in the presidential election mandatorily scheduled for November 3. The US Constitution does not have a provision for such a postponement. And here, the Election Commission of India has sought to adapt to the new normal of a Covid-19 pandemic to hold the Bihar election more or less on schedule. This is welcome, provided the voters in the generally backward state of Bihar are prepared well in advance about the precautions and constraints of an election under the shadow of the killer virus. As it is, Bihar is seeing a belated surge in the infections and is barely able to cope, given its particularly poor state of health infrastructure. Though a number of Bihar parties have suggested a postponement of the poll till the virus is sufficiently tamed, the EC seems to be preparing for an on-schedule poll.

Some of the guidelines for the 'new normal’ under consideration pertain to limiting the participation of voters in rallies, campaigns, door-to-door canvassing, etc. In other words, the festival-like spirit of a hotly contested poll will be the first victim of the pandemic-marred polling. Maintaining six-foot social distancing at campaign rallies and in door-to-door canvassing will be hard to observe. Also, sanitising polling booths and ensuring that voters wear masks too will be an arduous task. So will be the limit on the number of vehicles in a political cavalcade on the campaign trail. The point is that most of the conditions being considered will be observed in their breach, but given the sanctity of the poll process it will be the onerous duty of every political party to try and ensure that these are followed as far as possible. For, the plea of parties such as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress, etc., for a deferment of the poll has not found favour. The ruling alliance wants the poll on schedule. Whether the poll for the 243-member Bihar Assembly is to be held in a single phase or multiple phases spread over a couple of weeks is yet to be worked out. But what is clear is that there will be no postponement. The new Bihar Assembly is to be constituted by the end of November.

Meanwhile, despite discordant noises by Chirag Paswan, the ruling NDA alliance seems to be in a strong position to return to power. The leader of the Lok Janshakti Party often targets Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with an eye on bargaining for allocation of a higher share of seats from the two major alliance partners in the ruling combine. His options are limited, though. The LJP would come to grief going it alone or teaming up with the Laloo Yadav-led Grand Alliance. The latter is already showing signs of massive strain, with several constituents unwilling to project Laloo’s younger son, Tejashwi Yadav, as the chief ministerial candidate. Leaders of the small, single caste-based parties are demanding their own pound of flesh as the price for staying in the RJD-led alliance. In a blow to the RJD, three of its sitting MLAs crossed over to the ruling JD(U) a couple of days ago, while a junior minister quit the government to return to the RJD.

Such movement on the eve of the poll is only to be expected. For instance, after weeks of pulls and pressures, the former chief minister and leader of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), JItan Ram Manjhi, seems all set to return to the NDA. As of now, the disarray in the opposition alliance is such that it can only bolster the prospects of the NDA in the coming poll. A win in the first major poll after the outbreak of coronavirus will serve as a shot in the arm of the central government. And aggravate further the troubles of the national opposition.

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Free Press Journal