The Covid-19 pandemic is hovering over Bihar polls with a spooked BJP-JDU ally, Chirag Paswan, writing to the Election Commission, demanding that this year's elections be deferred. The missive to the EC may get considerable traction in the days to come as the Opposition is making a similar demand in the State, much to the discomfort of the BJP and JD-U combine.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a formidable form. Experts believe by October-November, its effect in Bihar will be worse. At this time, our priority should be to save people's lives, not to conduct elections...A big chunk of Bihar is hit by floods. Conducting elections as per the ICMR's guidelines will be extremely difficult," the Lok Janshakti Party leader’s letter states. He has demanded how voting will be carried out within the rigorous social distancing parameters and voiced fears that those already positive will not get a chance to exercise their right.
The surge in cases has led to an extension of lockdown till August 16, resulting in suspension of the political campaign. The BJP, which had launched its poll campaign through a virtual rally addressed by Home MInister Amit Shah in June, has suspended its remaining rallies, as many of its leaders have been infected during canvassing. One BJP MLC even succumbed to the virus last week.
On Friday, a flustered JD (U), too, announced the cancellation of its proposed August 7 virtual rally to be addressed by party chief and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The JD (U) had made elaborate preparations for the rally at different district headquarters and over five lakh workers were expected to join the exercise. The new date for the rally would be announced later.
Party insiders, however, claimed the decision to postpone the rally was taken at the behest of the chief minister himself. He was getting feedback about the poor response in constituency-wise rallies. He had been given input that the floods and the corona pandemic have created an anti-incumbency mood among the people who were visibly unhappy with the ruling dispensation. People are more interested in fighting the floods and combating the virus, the chief minister was told by his trusted bureaucrats.
This is expected to impact the turnout when the elections are held.
The RJD, too, has requested the EC to reschedule the October-November election as the entire state is grappling with the virus and floods. Bihar has reported 48,477 coronavirus cases so far, including over 280 deaths.
Nitish Kumar is being pilloried daily by the opposition RJD, which says the state government is playing down the coronavirus situation so that assembly elections can be held on time.
"They are only worried about their seats. The BJP is doing its virtual rallies, the Chief Minister is doing his virtual rallies. But they are not standing with the poor people of Bihar. The poor are dying. There is devastation everywhere. But they are only worried about their kursi," RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, who is also the leader of the opposition in the Bihar assembly, had said earlier this month.
Even the polling staff have not been spared by the virus, it is stated. Last week, 10 employees who were being groomed on EVMs use at Begusarai tested positive for the virus.