Coronavirus in Bihar: Nitish Kumar’s biggest challenge in election year is yet to come

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Updated: May 26, 2020 5:38 PM

Bihar is seeing a sudden increase in Covid-19 cases in the last few days. The state has reported 2,730 coronavirus cases and 13 fatalities.

bihar coronavirus, bihar election 2020Bihar is slated to go to polls in the month of October-November. While Nitish will seek a fourth consecutive win, it will be a do or die battle for the RJD which heads a coalition comprising RLSP, HAM and Congress.

Bihar assembly elections are a few months away and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar faces multiple challenges as polls draw closer. While the state grapples with mounting cases of coronavirus as migrants come in, creating employment opportunities beyond MNREGA will be on the minds of returning migrant workers. That makes his job even harder in a state that is strapped for funds and is staring at floods in the coming months.

The opposition, aware of the daunting path ahead for Nitish, is in no mood to relent. The exchange of barbs between the ruling NDA of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party on one hand and the Opposition led by Rashtriya Janata Dal have only intensified in the past few days.

Upping the opposition’s ante against the state government, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party president Upendra Kushwaha has said the Nitish Kumar government has been exposed on the migrants issue and that it will be the dominating theme of the polls.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Kushwaha said Kumar’s dealing with the migrants was not satisfactory and accused him of allowing migrants into the state reluctantly. Kushwaha, Nitish Kumar’s friend turned foe, suggested that he should have offered them to stay back by giving them Rs 10,000.

“After chief ministers of some states started calling back migrants, Nitish came under pressure. The way he dealt with the migrants’ issue is not at all satisfactory. Quarantine centres are just places to herd people. No social distancing is being followed,” he said.

The RLSP chief said the state government is giving migrants clothes and other items besides food. Estimated expense on a migrant from journey on train or bus to his stay at a quarantine centre is about Rs 10,000.

“Had the government offered this amount to a migrant, he could have met his expenses in another state and stayed back. This could have also prevented the spread of the virus,” he said.

Bihar is seeing a sudden increase in Covid-19 cases in the last few days. The state has reported 2,730 coronavirus cases and 13 fatalities. According to the state government data, over 8 lakh migrants have returned since the lockdown and more than 20 lakh are expected to return in the coming days.

The opposition parties in the state are critical of Nitish’s handling of the situation and are highlighting the poor conditions of quarantine centres in different districts. To a question whether the opposition’s response during Covid crisis had been minimal, Kushwaha replied: “It was only because they had to adhere to lockdown norms.”

Bihar is slated to go to polls in the month of October-November. While Nitish will seek a fourth consecutive win, it will be a do or die battle for the RJD which heads a coalition comprising RLSP, HAM and Congress. The grand alliance had won just 1 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in last year’s general election.

RJD leader and leader of opposition Tejashwi Yadav also attacked Nitish Kumar over poor condition of workers in the state as well as lack of facilities at the quarantine centres, making it clear that the issue will snowball during the elections.

“Migrant workers’ condition is appalling and the government should have taken adequate measures for their safety before implementing the lockdown,” he said on Tuesday.

Besides facing opposition’s ire and bringing migrants back and providing them employment, Nitish Kumar has one more tough task at his hands to deal with. There are growing voices of opposition from within the NDA camp, especially from the BJP. Several BJP leaders have openly expressed displeasure over Nitish Kumar’s handling of migrants issue and alleged that it will hurt the prospect of the coalition in the elections. As resentment over the economic impact of Coronavirus unfolds in the coming months, dealing with a critic closer home may prove the biggest headache for Nitish Kumar.

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