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Are Mehbooba’s comments on Tri-colour intended to help BJP in Bihar elections?

Peerzada Ummer

SRINAGAR—On October 14, India’s Minister for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai in a jam-packed election meeting in Bihar declared that terrorism from Kashmir will be wiped out once BJP wins the polls.

The remarks were certainly incongruous. However, the scenes subtly began getting clearer later in the evening when Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti was released, after 14 month-long preventive detention.

The 61- year-old politician known for her strong views, could not wait to express her views even overnight. Hours after being released, she released an audiotape in which she equated abrogation of Article 370 to that of a dacoity. 

The mainstream media was quick enough to pick up the thread, giving BJP enough ammunition to fire salvos at Kashmir, Kashmiri separatists, militants, Pakistan, and not to mention, Mehbooba Mufti.

Surprisingly,  Nityanand Rai’s statement and Mehbooba Mufti’s release coincided;  October 14.

Amid the reports of brewing anger against spiralling unemployment, criticism of unplanned lockdown, the sharp price rise and accusation of failure to combat Covid-19 pandemic effectively, BJP is facing the first election battle during the prevailing nation-wide pandemic in poll-bound Bihar. 

The BJP and the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, has challenge to douse the fire of conflicts within the party and allies of NDA.

However, Mehbooba’s release and her subsequent remarks seem to have turned the tables around.  It reminisced the old days when back in the year 2015 during state elections in Bihar, then BJP President Amit Shah addressed a poll rally telling voters that if BJP losses in  Bihar, there will be celebrations in Pakistan.

A similar strategy seems to have been in place at present.  On October 16, two days after her release, Mehbooba Mufti dropped one more bombshell.

In the first press conference she held after her release from detention, the PDP President said that she wouldn’t be holding Tri-colour until the special status of Jammu and Kashmir- abrogated on August 5, 2019- is returned.  The remarks were unanimously declared seditious by the Media and so by the BJP.  

Days later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a poll rally slammed those who are demanding rollback of the August 5 decision. Modi said that the demand to restore Article 370 is an insult to Bihar and its people.

Of late, Congress seems to have decoded the mystery. Its spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala on October 23 questioned the timing of the release of former J&K CM and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti from detention. “This is a ploy because BJP wants to speak about everything else but Bihar during poll campaigning,” he said.

The real issues confronting Bihar

While Bihar is going for polls to elect their new government after Nitish Kumar completing 15 years in power, the people of Bihar are being hunted with several critical issues ranging from unemployment to health facilities to education of agrarian crises.

Same Nitish Kumar who was hailed as ‘Sushashan Babu’ ( A person committed for good administration), is now ‘Palatu Ram’ ( A sarcastic remark for changing loyalty often).

While Nitish Kumar, still tries to raise the issue of his ‘good governance’ during the election rallies, however, the BJP leaders, who are in alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JDU, still raising ‘nationalistic’ issues during the campaign which they have been effectively doing in all elections post 2014.

A few critical issues Bihar is facing are;

Joblessness

According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), Bihar’s unemployment rate increased 31.2 percentage points, rising to 46.6% in April 2020.

Women safety

As far as women safety is concerned, on average one rape case is reported in less than six hours every day in Bihar. According to the official data of the state crime records bureau (SCRB), 1475 women, mostly minor girls, fell victim to rapists in the state last year alone.

Unsafe Drinking Water

According to the statistics of the public health engineering department (PHED), the groundwater in 5,635 wards of 896 panchayats in Bihar is contaminated with arsenic or fluoride and that in 20,737 wards of 1,513 panchayats has iron content beyond the permissible limit.

Pathetic Healthcare

According to Government Data, 57% posts of regular doctors and 77% posts of contractual doctors are lying vacant in government hospitals in Bihar. Further, a fall in overall bed occupancy rate in the health establishments across the state from 84% in 2015-2016 to 62% in 2017-2018.

Neonatal deaths

Bihar records the second-highest under-five and neonatal deaths in entire India. According to findings of the India state-level Disease Burden Initiative, 141,500 which included 75,300 neonatal deaths, were reported in the state.

Incidence of Crime

With a crime rate of 222 per lakh population, Bihar ranked 23rd in the country in incidents of crime. Bihar’s ranking is 33rd in rapes, 23rd in kidnapping and 11th in murders.

While the Biharis have their own local issues, the BJP leadership targeting the Kashmiri politicians over 370 rhetoric, it is beyond one’s compunction to contemplate how could a Bihar voter find Kashmir’s special status important when he is reeling under the worst ever times  with economy in shreds, life in perturbation and everyday crises menacingly looming large over the horizon. Elections in India are turning frighteningly ambivalent.  

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