By Shubhomoy Chatterjee
Patna, India, Oct 28 (EFE).- The eastern state of Bihar went to the polls on Wednesday in India’s first elections since the Covid-19 crisis began, bringing out several issues in the wake of the pandemic, ranging from loss of jobs of migrant laborers, unemployment, farm distress, and alleged government apathy.
The novel coronavirus has shaped everything from voting protocol to poll promises, as millions of voters in Bihar elect their representatives to the 243-member legislative assembly in a three-phased electoral process.
The next rounds will take place on Nov.3 and Nov.7 in the state with a population of more than 100 million people of which more than 70 million are eligible voters.
There is a sense of anti-incumbency in the state, one of India’s least developed, mainly due to unemployment and loss of jobs because of the months-long lockdown in the wake of the pandemic.
“During the lockdown, people have suffered. There has been loss of jobs among the middle class, the poorer sections are in dire straits. Medical infrastructure collapsed. Doctors refused to treat patients due to infection fears, and hospitals allocated for corona(virus) patients did not cater to other illnesses,” Bajrang Bihari Sharma, an independent candidate from Bhagalpur, told EFE.
He underlined that the damage and deaths were “greater than Covid-19,” and that there were even cases of “mothers giving birth outside government hospitals” because there was no place inside.
Moreover, the poor have been at the “mercy of god” as farmers were unable to sell their produce, and the “abundant maize harvest rotted away during the monsoon,” said Sharma, who holds a degree in computer science.
Jai Singh, unemployed youth in his 20s from Bhagalpur, told EFE that the government’s failure to look after its people during the lockdown would play an important role in how people vote.
“Lots of migrant workers had to return from across the country to Bihar, having lost their jobs overnight. The state has largely been seen as not having done enough to generate employment or look after these sections,” he said.
He stressed that if there was a change in government when the results are declared on Nov.10, the issue of unemployment and economic hardship “will single-handedly be responsible for it.”
Against this backdrop, the opposition Mahagathbandan alliance, led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal, promised one million jobs for the people of the state if voted to power.
The ruling National Democratic Alliance, mainly comprising of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal-United (JDU), promised 1.9 million jobs and free Covid-19 vaccine for all when it is ready.
However, Sharma, who has earlier been a part of the BJP, its parent wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the JDU, described these as empty poll promises and said these leaders were turning a blind eye to the misery suffered by the people as if it never happened.
“The truth is that politics here is based on wealth and along caste and religious lines, and these people do not want to change that,” he emphasized.
Besides shaping the issues during the elections, the novel coronavirus crisis has also affected the nature of campaigning as most candidates are opting for the door-to-door campaigns, distributing pamphlets, and addressing smaller gatherings.
“We wear masks, use hand sanitizers, have a campaigning team of only five people, and maintain social distancing,” said Sharma.
He admitted that it had hampered their “connect with the people on not being able to mingle with them, get close to them, shake hands or hug.”
However, leaders from many political parties, mainly from the top two alliances, held public rallies, where there has been no social distancing or proper use of masks and sanitizers among the crowd, including those addressed by the prime minister.
“We are following all the Election Commission guidelines, although many big candidates from big parties are not, and they are above the law as no action is taken against them,” reflected Sharma.