By Harihar Swarup
The campaign for the Bihar election, scheduled for the end of the year, has begun. In a display of what campaigning may look like in the coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-hit era, Union home minister and top Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah addressed workers in a digital rally. His message was simple: The BJP-Janta Dal (United) alliance has delivered on governance; it will win a two-thirds majority under chief minister Nitish Kumar, and the state government have worked to address the distress of the poor, particularly migrant workers.
Shah’s claims are questionable. There is a sense in Bihar that in his third term, Kumar’s record in office has been patchy, especially when compared to his own previous track record where he improved Bihar’s infrastructure and law and order. The last five years have been marked by political instability. He won the election in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but changed partners mid-way. The next generation of reforms, need to bring in investment to industrialise the state, has not happened. But most critically, Nitish Kumar’s record in dealing with the health and the economic crisis in the last two months has had several gaps. Bihar’s testing was low in the initial period; it was not proactive in bringing back migrant workers – who are central to the remittance economy of the state; when migrants returned, there has been surge in cases beyond the anticipation of the state government; and it has been unable to rigorously follow health protocols and come up with an adequate economic response.
Yet, the BJP-JD(U) alliance has an advantage in the race, primarily due to caste arithmetic and the state of the opposition. In Bihar’s triangular polity, whenever two actors come together, they have an advantage over the third. The ruling combine has the substantial backing of upper castes, backward communities, and a large segment of Dalits. But its biggest strength is the state RJD. With Lalu Prasad still in jail, the leadership mantle of the party is with Tejaswi Yadav, who does not have his father’s mass connect and charisma. The RJD has a solid backing of Muslims, and the majority of Yadavs (though segments of Yadav’s moved away in the Lok Sabha elections to the National Democratic Alliance). The social coalition is enough to make the RJD a strong opposition, but not enough to win. It is also unclear if the RJD has the political heft to capitalise on the palpable discontent against the state government. But irrespective of the outcome, the real significance of the poll is in how parties mobilise during times of a pandemic and the shifting nature of issues that will now be central in the choices of voters.
Cambridge Study Says Masks Must To Combat Covid-19
In the most promising scientific news of this month, a modeling study led by University of Cambridge has made a strong case for the efficacy of face masks. Homemade masks help as well. The study suggests an entire population wearing masks of just 75% effectiveness can bring a very high RO of four to less than one that too with a lockdown. RO is number people to whom an infected person passes the virus, and when this number falls below one it means the pandemic’s been slowed.
In India unlocking has become imperative even as the infection displays a strong momentum, including in our two big cities. The crucial message of the above study is that in this taxing situation, we can take control in some very basic ways. It urges the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by public. Unlike lockdowns that destroys livelihoods and trigger humanitarian crisis—such as the tragic migration exodus witnessed—masks cost so little. It also helps to regularly wash hands with soap and physical distance, in particular to avoid proximity in enclosed spaces. But of all these masks is the easiest to universalize in India.
Of course, it does little good if it dangles under your nose or on your neck. Unfortunately, this is the way, it continues to be styled at too many public appearance by Covid fighting authorities, be they politicians or police or bureaucrats. They must do better and lead by example. Unlike say Hong Kong where close to 99% of residents have been reported to be wearing masks since early February. In India there is no pre-existing culture of doing it. So it can feel uncomfortable, rude eccentric. But making masks a thing of plenty and explaining them well can drive real change. With universal availability and sustained messaging they can soon become the social norm. (IPA Service)