‘The pandemic has spiralled out of control solely because of the apathetic attitude of the Nitish government’, says the Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly
Amidst the virulent second wave of pandemic, Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav speaks to The Hindu about the COVID-19 situation in Bihar, Opposition politics and the return of his father Lalu Prasad.
If we go by the official statistics, the number of active COVID-19 cases and number of deaths in Bihar is on the lower side as compared to many other States. The ground reports, including the recent death of Bihar Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Singh, indicate a different story. What is the reality?
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has notoriously under-reported the numbers, be it the number of positive cases or deaths. But even if we were to go by the official statistics, it is alarming. For instance, in April alone 2.4 lakh new cases and 984 deaths have been reported with TPR (test positivity rate) of 16.1%. These are not merely numbers. These are 984 precious lives which have been lost due to lack of proper treatment and medical infrastructure. COVID-19 has now reached rural Bihar too. There are not enough beds, people are struggling to get oxygen. Into the second year of this pandemic, Bihar is still struggling, with the first step in pandemic management — testing. It takes 7-10 days for the reports to come. We have the lowest percentage of vaccinated people in the country. And all this while, the Chief Minister is busy fudging the numbers which is very unfortunate.
Many experts have said that today’s situation is a result of apathy towards medical infrastructure shown by successive governments. Aren’t the Opposition parties who have been in power in the previous years equally to be blamed then?
This is a fallacious argument. In Bihar, the pandemic has spiralled out of control solely because of the apathetic attitude of the Nitish government. For a moment, even if I were to agree with your hypothesis, Nitish Kumar has been the Chief Minister of Bihar for the last 15 years. Why are the positions of doctors, nurses and other paramedics still vacant? Why don’t we have enough beds? What has this government done in the last one year to augment its medical infrastructure? How much money from PMCARE is invested in Bihar? Why are ventilators rotting in warehouses? How long will this government blame its predecessors for its own failures?
There was enough warning about the second wave yet the elections went on in four States and a UT recently. In October, Bihar also had assembly polls, where we saw you addressing tightly packed public meetings. In hindsight, do you think if the Opposition parties had taken a united stand these public meetings could have been avoided?
If you would recall, we were the first and probably the only political party to write to the Election Commission asking them to postpone the Bihar polls. We were mocked by BJP-JD(U) and a few sections of the media too. Since it was the call of the Election Commission to hold elections, we were left with no choice but to participate. It’s grossly unfair to question the Opposition for every mishap in the country. The government at the helm should also be asked and held accountable. Even now in West Bengal, amidst an unprecedented upsurge of COVID-19 infections, all parties except the BJP asked the EC to club the remaining four phases of election. But the EC didn’t bother. We have been reduced to a procedural democracy from being a substantive democracy.
In the last few days we have seen an “us vs them” narrative with the State governments blaming the Centre and the Centre blaming them. Who as per you holds the primary responsibility for this mess.
Never before in the history of independent India have we witnessed such discrimination against the States by the Union government. In a pandemic, the Centre has got all the powers and control over the resources, the States are left begging for oxygen, testing kits, basic medicines and vaccines. The Centre is dictating the policy which the States have to follow. If he [Narendra Modi] can boast about every little accomplishment, then as the Captain of the ship he should also take responsibility for this mess. But again in a State like ours, even these limited resources allocated by the Centre have been poorly distributed and managed. The Nitish government has done absolutely nothing to ramp up medical facilities in the State. This so-called double engine government has resulted only in double trouble for the State and therefore both should take the collective responsibility for this abject failure.
It has been over five months now since Nitish Kumar took over for the fourth time as Chief Minister of Bihar. Tension between the ruling side and Opposition has escalated. Last month, we saw police entering the Assembly. How is this fourth term different from his previous tenures?
This one is an absolutely dictatorial government. What happened in Bihar Assembly is unheard of. Lawmakers were thrashed and kicked around by Patna police for peacefully protesting against the passage of the draconian special armed police Bill in the Assembly. For this, they were beaten black and blue at the behest of Nitish Kumar. He is trying to implement the agenda of RSS by altering the Constitution which we shall vehemently oppose. For any democracy to thrive, the Opposition’s voice should be heard and accommodated but Nitish Ji does exactly opposite of it. He is stifling the contrarian voices.
Your father, Lalu Prasad ji, is out on bail. Will he be returning to Patna and do we expect him to resume political activities.
At the moment, he is undergoing treatment at AIIMS and recovering at home. His health is our primary concern as he has multiple co-morbidities. His routine checkup of heart is due since long. Considering his vulnerability, we are taking utmost precautions. And definitely he will be returning to Patna once we consult his doctors.
In view of the victory of the TMC and the DMK and Congress’s failure to make any dent in the recent Assembly polls do you think they can no longer be the natural leaders of Opposition?
In both these States, the regional parties are a formidable force and have dominated for over 3-4 decades. No one would deny the fact that the Congress has a pan-India presence.