The Election Commission (EC) of India has, perhaps, never faced such a situation before. While it has started the process to conduct Assembly elections in Bihar on time, many parties, including a key constituent of the ruling NDA, are reluctant to join the poll process in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The current tenure of the Bihar Assembly expires on December 2 this year, and hence the poll panel wants to complete the whole election process before the set deadline. However, the chorus to defer the polls is growing by the day.
The lone factor that is to be blamed for this situation is the COVID-19 crisis, the cases of which recently breached the 8-lakh mark. In view of the crisis, many parties connected to the hoi polloi find it improper, immoral and unprofessional to ask people to vote for them while the latter themselves are in a crisis.
RJD leads the way, parties toe the line
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) headed by jailed politician Lalu Prasad was the first party in the state which questioned the practicality of holding elections at this time. “I will be the last person to have an election on dead bodies. If Nitishji acknowledges that COVID is still a crisis, elections can be postponed until the situation improves, but if he thinks COVID is not a problem, elections must be conducted with traditional means of electioneering,” RJD legislator and Bihar’s Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav said on Saturday (July 11). He said he doesn’t understand why the ruling NDA is in such a hurry to hold elections.
By taking such high moral ground, the RJD conveyed a new message to society— that it is more concerned about the well-being of the common man than seeking votes to come to power. This has triggered a mad scramble among the parties to emerge as the well-wisher of the masses.
While the Left followed in RJD’s footsteps, then came former parliamentarian Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar party, and now the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a key constituent of the Bihar NDA, too wants the polling to be deferred till the situation gets normal.
“The Election Commission should take a decision after much deliberation. There is a great possibility of putting lives of millions of people at risk if elections were held in October/November this year,” commented LJP president Chirag Paswan, son of Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan, a minister in the Narendra Modi government.
A public interest litigation (PIL) too has been filed in the Patna High Court, seeking to postpone the Assembly elections. The PIL filed by Badri Narayan Singh, a lawyer, contends that holding elections at the time when the entire country is battling COVID-19 won’t be morally correct. He is not wrong. More than 15 districts in Bihar have now enforced fresh lockdowns, ranging from three days to a week, indicating the severity of the spread of the disease in the state.
Will it upset BJP, JD(U)’s poll plans?
The requests by parties to defer the elections has drawn strong reactions from the BJP and the JD(U) which have been holding digital rallies for the past over a month, trying to connect with the party workers and the voters and announcing sops for the masses. A delay in the poll process will obviously dampen their spirit and will require more resources to keep the voters’ support intact. A delay in elections will also mean a rise in severity of COVID-19 cases (given the current rate of their spread) and that will only create more anger among the masses and make things more difficult for the NDA to stage a comeback.
The BJP, for one, has been working overtime to win the Bihar polls at any cost in a bid to break the jinx of not winning assembly elections held in some big states in recent years although it was able to retain power at the Centre. The BJP has not been able to win recently-held assembly elections in states like Jharkhand, Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. Although in some states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, it has managed to come to power by the backdoor.
“The BJP-JD(U) duo has got caught in the googly of the RJD. What is the point in seeking votes from the masses when they themselves are battling existential crises? Well, elections are important in a democracy, but not at the cost of the common man!” said political expert DM Diwakar.
“Instead of showing concern for the common man and improving the healthcare system, the BJP-JD(U) combine has been rather focused on winning elections. Their roles have projected them as the rank opportunist, power-hungry parties,” he added.
In their defence, the two NDA partners have mounted heavy assaults on the RJD, describing it as a party which is “too scared to fight election” and has no faith in the constitutional body like the EC. They have also accused the RJD of putting pressure on the EC and encroaching into the latter’s jurisdiction by trying hard to defer the Assembly polls, but their logic doesn’t carry any weight.