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Bihar

Covid to flood: Tracing issues that may impact Bihar polls

September 26, 2020 06:46 AM

COURTESY HT SEPT 26

Covid to flood: Tracing issues that may impact Bihar polls
The election in the state will be held in 3 phases under the virus’s shadow. A look at the key issues that may swing votes

People wade through the floodwater in Gopalganj district on July 24. PTI file

Arun Kumar

letters@hindustantimes.com

PATNA : The first state to go to the polls after the Covid-19 pandemic struck India, Bihar is struggling to manage not only the disease but also the return of millions of migrant workers. Moreover, floods have inundated 18 of the state’s 38 districts, killing 27 people and displacing over 7 million. The election in the state will be held in three phases beginning October 28. A look at the key issues:

The state has come under some criticism for low testing, though the number has improved in recent weeks to 53,670 per million, as compared to the national average of 51,713. The positivity rate – a ratio of positive cases compared to total tests – has also fallen from 8.8% in mid-July to 2.7% by mid-September. As the state with the largest chunk of population living in rural areas, Bihar has always ranked low in availability of doctors and hospital beds. The government claims it has ramped up facilities, even in rural areas while the Opposition alleges inadequacy of hospital beds and emergency services.

Migration

The Opposition is trying to play up the distress of nearly 2.5 million migrants who returned to Bihar, pointing to their impoverished condition and alleging that the state government has done little to provide them jobs. The government has launched a slew of projects from fisheries to agriculture and said lakhs of migrants have been provided employment under MGNREGA and other schemes. Migration from Bihar is not a new phenomena but this is the first election where it is set to be a decisive factor.

Digital reach

The first big election in the Covid era is happening in a state with relatively low internet and telephone penetration. This will affect campaigning as big rallies and public meetings will not be possible. That will mean a paradigm shift in electioneering and greater dependence on technology. Teledensity is the lowest in Bihar. Internet penetration in Bihar is 32 subscribers per 100 people, compared to the national average of 54. Mass media exposure, too, is poor.

Flood havoc

Floods are cause of perennial sorrow in Bihar, where 28 of the 38 districts are marked flood-prone. This year, though, the floods were more severe than usual and people were already struggling to deal with the pandemic. At least 8.3 million people were displaced, and many are living in relief camps still.

The Opposition claims politicisation of relief, while the government blames earlier regimes for weak embankments and corruption.

Law & order

This is an issue very close to the heart of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who first came to power in 2005 with the pledge to improve the law and order in the state after 15 years of Rashtritya Janata Dal rule. But a spate of petty crimes and murder cases has emboldened the RJD-led Opposition.

Jobs

Job creation was another central election plank of the Kumar administration. His government claims to have provided jobs to lakhs of migrants through MGNREGA and various other schemes, but the Opposition says the youngsters and poor continue to suffer due to joblessness.

Dalit and minority votes

Scheduled castes form 16% of the state, and they are set to play a decisive role in the state elections. The changing political dynamics are also underlined by leaders such as Jitan Ram Manjhi and Shyam Razak, who have moved from the Opposition alliance to the NDA. In 2015, the Grand Alliance’s victory was attributed, in part, to the solid backing it received from the Muslim community that forms 16.87% of the state’s population.

Farm bills

This will be the first election after the contentious farm bills were passed in Parliament, triggering protests across India. Bihar had dissolved all agriculture marketing committees and marketing boards in 2006 after repealing the state APMC Act.

Education

The ruling dispensation takes pride in a chain of national and state-level institutions, the Opposition is focusing on the poor quality of school teaching.

Sushant Singh case

Over the past three months, the debate over the controversial death of the 34-year-old actor has roiled Bihar and captured the imagination of people.

With the actor’s family filing an FIR and the possible entry of former top cop Gupteshwar Pandey into politics, the fractious issue may have an impact on campaigning and polls

 
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