Patna: Amid a deepening Covid-19 crisis, the Tablighi Jamaat has now triggered a panic in Bihar over the whereabouts of people from the state who attended the Islamic missionary movement’s meeting in Nalanda last month and then went to the controversial Delhi congregation.
In a letter to the Bihar Disaster Management Department on 12 April, the Nalanda district magistrate said a meeting of the Jamaat was held in a mosque campus in district headquarters Bihar Sharif on 14-15 March.
Nalanda is Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s home district.
The letter pegged the number of Nalanda meeting participants at 640. “Most of them were from Bihar. Some may have come from Jharkhand,” the letter said. ThePrint has seen a copy of it.
While the mosque was shut after the letter, the state government officials are clueless if those who attended the Jamaat meeting in Nalanda later attended the group’s congregation in Delhi’s Nizamuddin.
The disaster management has so far only identified 274 out of these 640 persons, but have not been able to trace the remaining 366.
“Even the organisers did not have the entire list and addresses of the participants,” said a senior official of the department.
The Nalanda DM pointed out in his letter that one person who attended the Bihar meeting hailed from the state’s Nawada district and tested positive. The official added that two participants from Nalanda were tested. Efforts were on to locate 11 more participants from the district.
The letter has even pushed the state government to issue appeals to people to get tested.
“I would like to appeal to such people to come forward and get themselves tested. It will be for the good of their own family and the community as well as the state,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Srawan Kumar told ThePrint Thursday. Kumar hails from Nalanda and is considered a confidant of the CM.
Why the panic over Tablighi Jamaat
The Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi took place from early to mid-March. However, thousands of participants stayed on at the Markaz mosque campus in Nizamuddin, right until a 5-day operation by Delhi Police evacuated over 2,300 people from there by 1 April.
With many participants from Southeast Asian countries, including hotspot Malaysia, the event became the biggest source of Covid-19 in India as well as South Asia.
The latest row in Bihar has added to an already panicked administration in the state, which has still not been able to trace all the participants from the state who attended the Delhi event.
In the early days of this month, the Centre wrote to the Bihar government that 186 people from the state had attended the Nizamuddin event. Over three subsequent letters, the Centre raised this figure to 350.
Now, the state government is struggling to find out how many Biharis actually attended and needed to be tested and quarantined.
“It’s like searching for a needle in trucks full of hay,” said a senior state police officer who didn’t wish to be named. “A large number of persons – at least 40 per cent who may have attended the meeting in Delhi are yet to be traced.”
After the Delhi meeting, 57 foreign nationals attached to the Tablighi Jamaat were arrested from several Bihar districts like Araria, Kishanganj and Bhagalpur on charges of violation of visa rules. Most of them haled from Malaysia and Bangladesh.
“However, the number of Bihari participants remains a problem,” said the officer.
Fallout of Delhi event
On Thursday, the number of Covid-19 positive cases in Bihar surged by 11, taking the figure to 83. All the new cases had links to the Tablighi Jamaat’s Delhi meeting.
Out of the 11, nine are from a single family in Munger district who caught the infection after a 60-plus member of the family attended the Delhi meet and returned home.
“Six members of the family were confirmed positive on Thursday afternoon. Three more were confirmed positive by evening. They include four women and two children,” Sanjay Kumar, principal secretary in the state’s health department, told ThePrint.
Buxar was a coronavirus-free district until Thursday, when two persons who had arrived via Asansol in West Bengal tested positive. Both had attended the Delhi meeting.
This isn’t the first time that Covid-19 positive cases in Bihar have been linked to the Delhi meeting. In Begusarai, two members of the Jamaat tested positive. The district administration had to seal the entire district.
Both Nalanda and Begusarai are now among the four top priority districts in the state where screening has been launched on the lines of the polio eradication programme.
Not only Jamaat
The danger for Bihar is not limited to Tablighi Jamaat.
A person hailing from Vaishali district, who had undergone treatment at a private nursing home in Patna, tested positive for Covid-19. While the district administration sealed the private nursing home located in Patna’s Kankarbagh area, the man after being discharged met over 100 people, including 67 in Patna.
The state capital, which has not reported a positive case for the last two weeks, now fears a surge as the administration desperately tracks the persons the man met.
Until a week ago, Bihar was sitting comfortable with just 32 reported Covid-19 cases. Now, it expects a jump in the number of cases.