NEW DELHI :
The administrative and health crisis caused by the covid-19 pandemic and mass migration from cities is turning into a key electoral issue ahead of assembly elections in Bihar scheduled to be held six months from now.
A large number of the migrant casual workers headed for their home towns and villagers are from Bihar.
The ruling Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), a member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the main Opposition party in the state, have locked horns over the issue.
Job losses that the pandemic is expected to create in the coming months could pose a big challenge to JD(U) chief and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. This is especially so as Kumar is likely to face a lot of anti-incumbency headwinds as he has been in the top post for most of nearly 15 years.
The Opposition parties are blaming the central and Bihar governments for lack of clarity in dealing with what they call a “humanitarian crisis". However, NDA members point out that this is not the time to play the blame game.
“We know the assembly election in Bihar is due in October-November this year but this is not about electoral gains or losses. This is a humanitarian crisis that both the Union government and the state government have failed to anticipate and cope with. It is not just about job losses of people. The government was not even prepared for this kind of a situation either in terms of health facilities or humanitarian aid," said Manoj Jha, national spokesperson of RJD and member of Parliament (MP) in the Rajya Sabha.
Members of JD(U), which will spearhead the NDA campaign in the Bihar elections, believe that the migration crisis started because of Opposition parties, which they say created panic in the country and hampered the nationwide lockdown.
“This is the second time when Opposition parties have created a scare in the country. Some months ago, a similar campaign was started against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and now during a health crisis such as that posed by the coronavirus. This is the second instance when Opposition parties tried to gain through fear mongering. People will reply to Opposition parties during the polls," said a senior JD(U) leader based in Patna.
“The issue is bound to have a political fallout in Bihar. Migrants are slowly becoming a voting group cutting across caste and creed," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
“Kumar’s governance model has been endorsed by the state for long now, but he is a three-term chief minister and as far as this issue goes he took no steps to reach out to the migrants. An emotional appeal or a confidence- inspiring outreach was missing. The common refrain of migrants is that they did not see him asking for public transport to be arranged or food to be provided. We will have to wait and see how this plays out in the elections," said Priyam.
JD(U) members believe that the migration crisis in Bihar is not only an administrative challenge but also a health emergency as all the migrants coming into Bihar need to be tested.
“People have become extremely aware of the threat of coronavirus and now even villagers are helping the state government identify those who are returning from other states and get these migrants tested. People have come together to help the government, though Opposition parties tried to create a panic," said the JD(U) leader.