Patna: Panic gripped the Bihar BJP headquarters as several party leaders, including organisational secretary Nagendra Nath, general secretary Devesh Kumar and vice-president Radhamohan Sharma, tested positive for Covid-19.
Early media reports suggested that around 75 BJP leaders had tested positive but state party spokesperson Rajni Ranjan Patel put the number at 25. The development comes on the day that the state government announced a complete lockdown until 31 July. Rural areas have been exempted from the lockdown.
“We called a team on Monday to collect samples following reports that a Covid-positive person had attended one of our meetings,” Patel said. “Samples of 75 persons were taken. The results have come today, 25 of them have been found positive.”
Patel stressed that steps like sanitisation of the entire office were being taken.
Headquarters epicentre of BJP’s e-rallies
The state BJP office, located in Patna’s politically-vibrant Veerchand Patel Marg (JD(U) and RJD state offices are also located on this road), has been the epicentre of the party’s e-rallies in the run up to Bihar assembly polls.
Home Minister Amit Shah addressed the first virtual rally from Delhi on 9 June, with all important local BJP leaders sitting at state headquarters in Patna.
Since then a series of e-rallies has been held from the same office almost on a daily basis with BJP ministers and state leaders addressing regions and district party workers and supporters.
The e-rallies are broadcast on screens but party workers and leaders congregate around these screens in Patna and in the districts.
The BJP and its ally, the JD(U), have been strongly backing virtual rallies for election campaigning instead of real rallies, stressing that it was a safe mode of electioneering.
The e-rallies have, however, been vehemently opposed by opposition parties such as the RJD and the Congress.
Despite 25 of its leaders having tested positive, the BJP still insists that its e-rallies are safe.
“The incident has not taken place due to e-rallies. The precaution of wearing masks, sanitising the hands and social distancing is maintained in our e-rallies,” spokesperson Patel said.
“The incident took place because we held meetings of regional leaders and workers in a phased manner by calling them to Patna. It is quite possible that some of those coming to the office may have been Covid-positive.”
Opposition slams BJP & its e-rallies
The opposition, which has not only been opposing e-rallies but has also been demanding postponement of the assembly elections scheduled for later this year, was quick to slam the BJP.
“The BJP and JD(U) have been holding e-rallies without following the safeguards. They are interested in obtaining power and are least concerned with the well-being of the people. They are power-hungry,” senior RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said.
“I would like to ask the BJP to identify their leaders who are spreading Covid-19 among the masses.”
This is not the first time that the safety of the e-rallies has been questioned. A week ago, there were similar questions after 9 people tested positive in Motihari. The nine were among the 100 participants of an e-rally in the town, which was broadcast from the state headquarters.
“I fail to understand the logic behind the BJP insisting that the e-rallies are safe,” said RJD MP Manoj Jha. “Even if there are just 100 people participating, there is a strong chance that either one or a few of them will be Covid-positive.”
BJP leaders also privately agree that e-rallies are not that safe.
“How do you ensure a group of supporters wear masks and maintain distance when it cannot be ensured in the state office?” said a BJP MLA, stressing that he had avoided going to the state office for over a month because he found many ticket seekers and their supporters crowding the place.