Chirag Paswan says holding Bihar polls during pandemic will put people at risk, JD(U) differs

New Delhi/Patna: BJP ally LJP on Friday joined the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal in expressing concern over holding the Bihar assembly polls amid a spread of COVID-19 cases, with its president Chirag Paswan saying it will put people at risk and may result in a very low voter turnout.

Paswan's comments have again highlighted his party's rift with its allies, especially the JD(U), which was quick to snub him and asserted that timely elections would be in interests of "good governance".

The BJP's response was more guarded as the party said that conducting elections was the prerogative of the Election Commission.

In his tweets, the Lok Janshakti Party president said, "Not only Bihar but entire country is affected by the coronavirus. It has impacted finances of the Centre as well as Bihar. Holding elections amid this will financially burden the state more." He added, "The Election Commission should take a decision with a lot of deliberations. It should not happen that a huge population is put into danger. Polling percentage may also be very low if elections are held amid this pandemic which is not good for democracy." However, he said his party is ready for the polls.

The state polls are due in October-November. The Election Commission has so far not made any official announcement about the schedule.

A few days ago, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav had said that it would not be proper to hold the elections during the pandemic as he described the situation in the state as "scary".

Asked about whether he thought it would be proper to hold elections in time in view of the rising cases of the infection, he had said, "I think it would not be proper. The situation in the state is scary and the people have been left to fend for themselves in the face of the raging pandemic." Both the BJP and the JD(U) have asserted that they are ready for the polls and have been holding organisational meetings.

JD(U) spokesman Rajiv Ranjan Prasad said his party believes that the Election Commission has taken a decision after consultations with all political parties to hold the elections on time.

"The Janata Dal (United) has made its preparations keeping in mind the possibility of the elections being held on time," he said.

He added that timely elections would be in interests of "good governance and helping Bihar get its due respect on the national stage".

BJP spokesperson Nikhil Anand said that the EC is already working on modalities to ensure not only free and fare but also safe elections in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

If the EC is satisfied with situation, then the elections will surely be taking place on time, Anand said in a statement.

"Any political party is free to express an opinion but conducting the election is the sole prerogative of the EC. We will go by the decision of EC related to Bihar elections due in October- November 2020," he added.

Paswan has been critical of the Nitish Kumar-led government over a host of issues, including its handling of the migrant crisis.

The LJP believes that Kumar, the JD(U) president, has been working to marginaise it within the NDA fold and is not keen of giving it an adequate number of seats to contest in the assembly polls.

RJD's coaltion partner Congress,however, has favoured timely assembly polls with some conditions due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

AICC in-charge for Bihar Shaktisinh Gohil has said Congress is fully in support of holding the elections as per schedule even as he underscored the health and safety of voters and poll personnel during the elections.

Another opposition coalition partner - Hindustani Awami Morcha of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi - also wants election on time.

Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a controversial former MP who has floated his own Jan Adhikar Party, has threatened to move the Supreme Court seeking postponement of the polls.

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