Bihar election dates set | HT Editorial
Covid-19, unemployment, migrants, floods and agrarian distress will dominate these pollsUpdated: Sep 25, 2020, 19:30 IST
The Election Commission (EC) has announced dates for the Bihar election, the first major one to take place during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be held in three phases — October 28, November 3 and November 7. A massive effort has been made by EC to reach masks, gloves, sanitisers and thermal imaging equipment to the state before it goes to the polls. Five main issues are likely to dominate the polls: How the state government has handled the pandemic; the trials and tribulations of 2.36 million migrants who have returned to Bihar from other states; unemployment; the aftermath of the floods; and the agrarian crisis.The Sushant Singh Rajput death probe could figure as well — but perhaps not as a major issue.
While the BJP-JD(U)-LJP ruling coalition is a formidable force, it has its task cut out in convincing people that it has handled the crisis thrown up by the pandemic effectively. Covid-19 has brought into stark relief the many problems that the state faces. One is that of the huge reverse flow of migrant labour, leading to a spike in Covid-19 cases and heightened unemployment. Chief Minister (CM) Nitish Kumar has sought a skill-based profile of migrants, but critics have termed this pointless as there are no jobs to be had. The state’s health care system has been stretched thin and its testing strategy, with a huge bias towards inaccurate rapid antigen tests, is faulty. Farmers complain that they cannot harvest their crops in time as they have not been able to bring in heavy machinery from states such as Punjab; nor are they able to find workers; and supply chains have been disrupted as a result of which they have not been able to move their crop in time to the markets. Some of these problems are not unique to Bihar.
These issues should serve as easy pickings for any opposition. But the RJD-Congress-led combine has not been able so far to push the government in any substantial manner though campaigning has begun. The RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, considered inexperienced by many, has so far not been able to provide the sort of leadership needed to take on the ruling coalition, which will count on both CM Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help make its case. Neither the Opposition nor the ruling coalition seems to have understood the extent of frustration and anger over job losses, agrarian distress, and spiraling cases of Covid-19. It will be interesting to see whether these issues take precedence over the traditional caste dynamics that have driven election results in the state so far.