Strangely, the hour-long Bhashan delivered and relayed over huge LED screens all over Bihar on Sunday, June 7, from Delhi by Union Home Minister Amit Shah makes a simple, plain and blatant mockery of the guidelines issued on May 30 by the very Ministry that he presides over.
This looks all the more bizarre since only a week ago from now the first phase of reopening of COVID-19 lockdown began under Unlock-1 plan of the Centre’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) with restrictions on quite a few activities, including political.
Not only through the first phase of MHA’s Unlock-1, which is currently on, but the second phase too bars political activity of any sort. This is so for zones other than the containment zone.
The containment zones are in any case supposed to remain frozen for all activities. And by no stretch of the imagination, the entire state of Bihar can be said to be free of containment zones to allow for gathering before LED screens to watch what looked like Shah’s election speech though he added a rider by saying that he was mobilising people to fight the Corona crisis.
The very term Unlock-1 indicates partial and staggered lifting of the lockdown. This was further divided into three phases by MHA on May 30 before the commencement of the first phase of reopening from June 1. Only places of worship, hotels, restaurants, other hospitality facilities and shopping malls were to be allowed to lift shutters in the first phase of reopening. This too was often further delayed by provincial Governments like that of Delhi where it was postponed for another week or until June 8.
The second phase of Unlock-1 will allow schools, colleges and other educational institutions like coaching centres to reopen. For this, the feedback from States and Union Territories has to be taken into view. And the decision with regard to the opening of such centres of learning is to be taken by the Central Ministry in July.
It is only in the third-phase that political, social, cultural and other similar activities will be possible to be allowed. This is what the MHA guidelines say to indicate clearly that political events will come in the third and the last phase of Unlock-1 for being considered for possible reopening.
These guidelines have been issued under the Disaster Management Act and entail penal provisions in case of being violated in any manner whatsoever, and these are very much on the MHA website.
It goes on to say, “Any person violating these measures will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provisions of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, besides legal action under section 188 of the IPC, and other legal provisions as applicable.”
Thus, the irony is that despite this being so clearly stated, Amit Shah did address what his party called to be a virtual Bihar rally. It was christened as Bihar Jan Samvad, or dialogue with people. It covered all the 243 Assembly constituencies of the State which are supposed to go to polls in November this year or so.
Notwithstanding his efforts to underplay the forthcoming polls in the state, Shah did express the hope to win a two-thirds majority for NDA, or the National Democratic Alliance, of which the BJP is a part of. He took potshots at rival parties like the RJD, or Rashtriya Janata Dal, and Congress.
Anyway, Bihar is not the only state where the Union Minister tried to reach out through his virtual rally on Sunday. The next rally is billed for Odisha tomorrow and the day after is the turn of West Bengal.
The BJP has pinned great expectations with the West Bengal rally and the party expects a million-strong audience to cheer up Shah when he speaks to party supporters from Bengal. Polls in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s state are expected to be held in February next year.
Bengal has recently been hit by a cyclone. It has brought huge damage besides the loss of lives in several parts of the State. Shah is likely to flaunt the Central Government’s assistance to the State in the wake of the twin tragedies posed by Coronavirus and the cyclone. This can well be more so since Mamata has described the Central grant in the wake of the cyclone as too little for too big a tragedy.
Odisha too has been the victim of the Amphan cyclone where the Home Minister is likely to highlight the Centre’s generosity. Since there are no elections in Odisha in the near future, addressing a rally of the party supporters in the State may help in bolstering the Centre’s top Minister’s claim that his attempt to reach people through virtual rally does not have political motives.
Shah is not alone to seek massive outreach to the people of select states. The BJP president JP Nadda and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh too are billed to address similar virtual rallies in Gujarat and Maharashtra soon.
This is so despite the fact that these rallies are going to result in sizeable gatherings of people both indoors and outdoors before LED screens to hear the talk of the BJP higher-ups from Delhi. Exactly, this has turned out to be the case with Bihar and it is likely to be so in other virtual rally-bound States too.
It can be anybody’s guess how risky this is going to be.