Coronavirus management or polls? Bihar must decide now

If the state goes to polls, Bihar could be the first state in the country that would put democracy on top and everything else, including people’s lives, later

The Assembly polls in Bihar are are taking place amid COVID-19 pandemic. FILE Picture

The Assembly polls in COVID-affected Bihar are a few months away; the Election Commission has made it clear.

If the state does go for the polls, come what may, Bihar could be the first state in the country that would put democracy on top and everything else, including people’s lives, below it. But democracy is all about people for whom the killer pandemic has already spread its tentacles.

The figures are staggering: Corona cases have already crossed the one lakh mark and around 500 people have died in the state.

However, the usual drama of switching loyalties has already been set in motion: four sitting MLAs, including a minister in Nitish Kumar-led government, switched loyalties on Monday.

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However, questions persist if the state is ready for the polls; whether it has enough healthcare support to take care of the people caught in the massive eruption of the pandemic.

Bihar has imposed six lockdowns so far — from March 23 to April 14; April 15 to May3; May 4 to May 31; July 16 to July 31; August 1 to August 16 and now August 17 to September 6.

That means the people are being repeatedly advised to lock themselves in their homes, restrict their movements outside the homes and maintain social distance.

The repeated advisories have caused much panic.

“Elections are still some two months away, but given the spiralling corona cases, it looks the situation will become alarming by the time elections are held.

Who will take care of us if we fall victim to the deadly virus? There are no arrangements in hospitals. Should we reach the polling booths to die?” says Kamala Kant Prasad, a resident of Deo block in Aurangabad district.

“On the one hand, the government is asking us to stay indoors and maintain social distancing, and on the other, the Election Commission wants us to come out of homes, join the long queues and vote,” says Kishore Jaiswal, a farmer from Munger.

The large workforce proposed to be deployed to conduct the elections appears frightened. So far, 11 unions of Bihar government employees have shot off letters to the poll panel, urging it to postpone elections citing corona. “It is unfair to conduct elections when people’s life is at stake,” said Bihar Secretariat Service Association president Binod Kumar.

“Time is just not ripe for elections. Elections mean large crowds of voters, poll officials and politicians. Is there any way to stop infection spreading?” asked Kumar.

But the politicians have suddenly got busy. Defections began on Monday as four sitting MLAs, including a minister in Nitish Kumar-led government, switched sides.

Three RJD MLAs, including two who were expelled on Sunday from the party, joined the JD-U.

After his sack as Minister of Industries and an ouster from the party, Shyam Rajak (JD-U MLA from Phulwarisharif) returned to the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Earlier, five RJD MLCs had joined the JD-U after being re-nominated to the Upper House. Similarly, three senior JD-U leaders have joined the RJD.

Except two NDA partners — the BJP and the JD-U — none including the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), another NDA ally, wants elections in the state at this time. “Holding elections in such circumstances will amount to pushing people towards death,” the LJP wrote to the EC.

“I reiterate that the LJP is not in favour of conducting elections at this time, yet we will have to be prepared if the EC announces dates,” LJP president Chirag Paswan said, interacting with party leaders through video-conferencing on August 17.

Chirag took pot-shots at the Nitish Kumar government for not increasing the RT-PCR tests and has instead focussed on rapid antigen tests.

“Bihar is the only place in the world where most testing is being conducted through rapid antigen tests while the number of RT-PCR tests, which are more authentic, is just around only 7,000,” Chirag said and alleged the state government was playing with the lives of the people.

According to a report of the Bihar health department, the average daily testing currently has crossed over one lakh. On August 17, the total number of testing conducted was 1,12,781 while on August 16, their number was 1,07,727. Covid-19 has claimed 558 lives and infected 109875 people so far.

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