A ‘national’ TV channel, which is known for its fulsome coverage of the BJP and Prime Minister Modi, recently sent a journalist to cover how Bihar had dealt with the threat of coronavirus. The channel went ballistic in criticising Nitish Kumar, JD(U) chief and chief minister, for failing to deal with rising cases of coronavirus and poor facilities in the hospitals.
Ironically, during the entire tenure of Nitish Kumar as the state’s chief minister, the health department has always been with the BJP. Ashwini Choubey, Giriraj Singh and now Mangal Pandey have been the state’s health minister during the last one and a half decades. All three have been known more for their reckless rhetoric and fiery, communal statements than doing their work in public interest.
But BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, faced with mounting criticism and public discontent, upset many by blaming former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav for poor conditions in government hospitals. Why didn’t Lalu Prasad build more hospitals, Modi Jr wondered—triggering outrage.
The TV channel, however, trained its guns on Nitish Kumar, ignoring the role of Sushil Modi and the health minister. While the beleaguered chief minister replaced the health secretary in a bid to improve the state of hospitals, people openly asked why the health minister had still been allowed to hold on to the department he handled so poorly. Significantly, the government had replaced Sanjay Kumar as the health secretary in the month of May. And now he has been replaced within two months.
While Sushil Modi has been busy tweeting on Rafale, Rahul Gandhi, Kargil and almost every other subject under the Sun, he has been in denial on the impact of the pandemic. While people complain of being denied beds in hospitals and ventilators, the deputy chief minister has been claiming that the number of tests and ventilators had gone up in the state and that in isolation centres the government had allowed Rs 175 per person per day for diet.
BJP leaders including Sushil Modi have barely concealed their glee at Nitish Kumar’s discomfiture. None of them has overtly defended him either, strengthening the belief that in case elections are held in November and the NDA manages to hold on to power, BJP would be willing to place its own man as chief minister for the very first time in the state.
The attacks on Nitish Kumar, which have intensified, seem designed to serve another purpose. Discrediting and weakening him, BJP leaders believe, would strengthen their bargaining position while distributing party ticket.
In order to pre-empt the very remote possibility of Nitish Kumar and JD(U) rejoining the opposition alliance against the BJP, Sushil Kumar Modi and other BJP leaders have been sharpening their attack on RJD leader and former CM Lalu Prasad Yadav, who remains in judicial custody in Ranchi. But that has not prevented the BJP from attacking the RJD leader on a daily basis, reminding people of lawlessness during his tenure and his alleged disproportionate assets.
Meanwhile, BJP leaders are trying to play down the link between a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state with the digital rally addressed by Amit Shah on July 7. The party had then boasted that 72,000 LED screens had been put up across the state to enable people to listen to the Union Home Minister address people and party workers. Within 10 days of the Home Minister’s digital rally, COVID-19 cases in the state began to spike and did not spare even the BJP headquarters in Patna. On July 17, the party summoned a corona testing mobile van at its office which collected the samples of 110 persons including leaders, workers and office staff.
Sanjay Jaiswal and Nagendra Nath—the president and general secretary (organisation) of the Bihar BJP respectively—were among several party cadres who tested positive, following which the party’s state headquarters, where the leaders and workers had assembled to listen to the address, was sealed.
The BJP spokesman, Nikhil Anand said, “The samples included that of many outsiders who had gathered to get tested against the virus when they saw the van”. But the samples of Jaiswal, Nagendra Nath, another general secretary, Devesh Kumar had tested positive, he admitted. Media reports said that 75 BJP leaders and cadres associated with the party office had tested positive.
BJP is accused of flouting restrictions imposed by the Union Home Ministry to keep the coronavirus at bay. Nikhil Anand admitted as much. He said, “We covered 38,000 polling stations out of 72000 across Bihar. As many as 42 lakh people listened to Amit Shah”. While Anand insisted that ‘social distancing’ norms’ had been followed, media reports and photographs suggested otherwise.
Did BJP risk lives of its cadres and the people at large? Sanjay Jaiswal, BJP MP from West Champaran, has access to better medical facility but a party worker from Bettiah—headquarters of his West Champaran Lok Sabha constituency—succumbed to COVID, prompting some of his constituents to allege that the digital rally was responsible for spreading the virus.