—Mohd. Naushad Khan
With total lockdown in Bihar, the threat perception from the corona crisis can be imagined. Political temperature is rising in the state along with number of Corona cases. The mismanagement of Covid-19 crisis has provided political ammo in the hands of opposition party to take on the ruling dispensation. Covid crisis has made the political pitch murkier for Nitish Kumar and it is most likely to change the political discourse of Bihar.
But despite poor performance of Nitish-led government in tackling the pandemic the opposition has so failed to counter the state government. But if the crisis deepens it would cast shadow on the political fortunes of Nitish Kumar. Corona crisis coupled with flood fury in Bihar are no less than a litmus test for Nitish Kumar and political fodder for the opposition if they can carve out any political narrative out of it to take on Shushashan Babu of Bihar, a term he had acquired for good governance. Sensing political bickering and mismanagement barb on him due to ineffective handling of the pandemic, Nitish Kumar has sent a strong signal to the principal secretary (health) also asked him to leave if he cannot handle the situation.
Campaign is likely to be in full swing after few months but the leaders are gearing up to hit the campaign trail through real and virtual platforms. The election campaign is most likely to revolve around migrant crisis, pandemic and valor of Bihar Regiment in Galwan apart from other local issues. Meanwhile, the opposition parties in a memorandum to the Election Commission have asked to postpone elections in Bihar because of the worsening corona crisis in each passing day. Corona crisis and flood fury in Bihar are no less than a litmus test for Nitish Kumar and political dividend for the opposition if they can carve out political narrative out of it to take on Nitish Kumar.
Since Bihar would be the first state to go to polls after the outbreak of Covid-19 it is likely to set few benchmark for elections to be held in other states. The state is gearing up for a digitally charged campaign. The state election would be a test of performance for Nitish Kumar while a test of survival for the opposition. Be it state elections or general elections, politics is all about perception played out strategically to create perception for or against any political party in the people’s mind.
Virtual campaign and illusionary issues, with added flavor of political jingoism are likely to dominate the political scene in the state. However, in politics, opportunities keep on rotating from time to time and the party that is conscious of the changing idiom of politics often strikes a chord with the masses. The big question: Will the political chemistry of Mahagathbandhan translate on the ground as they want it to be. Till now, the opposition has failed to counter even the shortcomings of the Nitish-led government. The opposition has failed to present their combination as a united force on the political corridor in the state. Today Nitish Kumar along with BJP appears to be stronger despite many shortcomings and has dominated the political chessboard of Bihar.
According to Afroz Alam, professor and head of the political science department at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, “Bihar is unique in terms of its political disposition and at times ironical. For instance Covid-19 has brought huge uncertainties in the state. There is anger as well against the incumbent government the way it has handled the pandemic.”
“It appears as if now that the upcoming Bihar Assembly election is going to be fought like Parliamentary election in which Mr. Narendra Modi will contest from each assembly constituencies in the guise of candidates. Similarly, there is going to be a regional nationalism dominating the electoral scene using the bravery of Bihar Regiment in Galwan. Opposition is appearing more prepared on social media than on the ground. Opposition is not able to counter its weak image or its internal issues getting resolved firmly,” said Alam.
According to Praveen Rai, Political Analyst, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi, “The recent political churnings in Bihar indicates that the assembly election is heavily loaded in favour of NDA despite charges of mishandling of migrants during the Covid 19 pandemic. The reason for the NDA advantage is more due to visible chinks in the armour of its principal oppositions the UPA,” said Praveen Rai, Political Analyst, at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.
He added, “The public apology by Tejaswi Yadav for 15 years of misrule by his parents, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi is a political harakiri with huge potential for a severe electoral backlash and further attrition of strong leaders from RJD. The delay in forming a UPA alliance and the decision of AIMIM, led Asaduddin Owaisi, to field several candidates in Bihar may lead to split of Muslim votes and certain loss of crucial seats for the UPA. This election is going to witness a change in electoral campaign, and political parties will have to rely on digital and social media platforms to present their agenda and solicit votes. The BJP is way ahead of others both in terms of resources and digital footprints. The political snapshot of Bihar at the moment reveals that NDA has an edge, but optics in electoral politics can easily change by the time the electorate exercise their franchise.”
“At this staunch hour when the whole nation is undergoing a humanitarian crisis, politics in Bihar is beefing up each day leaving behind tales of plight among the toiling masses of the state. Adding up to all this more than 14 districts of Bihar are affected by floods. But amid all this, there seems a negating ground on the part of Nitish Kumar led Bihar government. A plethora of reports have testified about the ill-treatment of COVID patients. While Nitish Kumar left no stone unturned in imposing the lockdown starting from the first phase, there has been a lot to bring his governance into strict scrutiny. From migrant workers to high officials, those effected by COVID have been jeopardized and left without any medical care in multiple hospitals and medical centers in the state, said Darbhanga based Dr. Maskoor Ahmad Usmani, former President, Aligrah Muslim University Student’s Union
“Meanwhile, politics over the upcoming election seems to be a matter of concern where political parties have been running errands to gather votes and holding public meetings and live conferences. At this juncture when people are living in despair and a lethal pandemic is hanging around the lives of the masses, the role of the Bihar government is aghast. I strongly lampoon the stand of the state dispensation and demand immediate action on the part of government to curb the pandemic fiasco,” said Usmani.
However the BJP will try fan out nationalism debate along with Ram Mandir construction issue from time to time in Bihar to polarize sentiments but expert believe that the corona crisis is most likely to dominate the political scene in the state.
( The writer is a Delhi based journalist . Views expressed are personal)