New Delhi: The Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to all kinds of political rallies or demonstrations, but as the Bihar assembly elections draw closer, digital campaigning and even digital elections are being talked about.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is taking the first steps in this direction, organising a virtual rally for Union Home Minister Amit Shah on 7 June, while Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi spoke about the possibility of digital elections.
The opposition parties, meanwhile, have also gone on attack mode online. During the last phase of the lockdown (17-31 May), Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav increased his presence on social media, and has been connecting with the public through Facebook Live.
But Kanhaiya Kumar, the Communist Party of India leader and former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president, believes there is a fundamental problem with holding digital elections in Bihar.
“How many villages are connected to the internet in Bihar? You might have to walk up to 20 kilometres to avail it,” he told ThePrint in an interview in Delhi last week.
“The world will ultimately move towards digital democracy, but how will everyone be able to get equal access? The ruling parties and their workers control the search engines,” Kanhaiya said.
“Digital elections will meet the same fate that demonetisation and the lockdown did,” he added, implying that it will fail.
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‘Playing ludo’ with health minister
Kanhaiya Kumar is the most prominent Leftist face in Bihar, even though he lost on electoral debut from the Begusarai constituency in last year’s Lok Sabha elections. He has been conspicuous by his absence during the lockdown, and on being asked about his whereabouts, he said, “I feel like saying that I was playing ludo with the health minister”, alluding to the charge that Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has not been very visible during the crisis.
On a more serious note, Kanhaiya added: “During the lockdown, it is not possible to hold any kind of rally or dharna (sit-in protest.) There is absolutely no space for conventional politics in the coronavirus era. So, we are helping the people of Begusarai, be it filling out their forms or making arrangements for their daily meals.”
Recently, Tejashwi Yadav had raked up the Gopalganj triple murder case to attack the Janata Dal (United)-led Bihar government headed by Nitish Kumar and raise serious questions about the law and order situation in the state. Kanhaiya also criticised the government and its attitude towards questions being raised by the opposition.
“During the past few weeks, there has been a huge influx of returning labourers, but incidents of shooting and atrocities against women have also increased. Here, the opposition can only do two things — one, to help the people as much as possible, and two, to ask questions of the government,” he said.
“However, as soon as any question is asked, we are told not to indulge in politics. We cannot perform the tasks that come under the domain of the government… If trains are getting delayed or running astray, then the question must be directed at the railway minister, not at the opposition,” he added.
Opposition must band together
While making his reservations about digital elections clear, Kanhaiya agreed that politics would change dramatically in the post-Covid period. But for this, the entire opposition will have to band together, he said.
“After several decades, the issues of the poor have been acknowledged by the rich too. After several decades, the labourers have got space on prime-time debates. With this transformed consciousness of the people, political consciousness can also be altered,” the CPI leader said.
“Coalition is the need of the hour. Personally, I think that the opposition must come together. But the decision about coalition between parties can only be taken by their respective heads,” he said.
On the issue of converting migrant labourer’ anger into an election issue, he added: “If Bihar has to be made aatmanirbhar (self-reliant), then all parties will have to join hands. A common plan needs to be developed for the sake of the youth of Bihar.
“When was the voice of the labourers raised on prime-time TV? Thus, the opposition too will have to raise the issue of their employment vociferously.”
No electoral strategy
After tasting defeat in the parliamentary elections, there have been questions about whether Kanhaiya would fight the assembly polls this time. But he categorically denied wanting to do so.
“I do not want to contest elections. My old battles are still going on; the case against me is still being heard,” he said.
“I was stuck in Delhi during the lockdown. I cannot afford to go to Begusarai by chartering a plane from Delhi. It would be immoral too,” Kanhaiya said.
On being asked about comparisons being drawn between him and Tejashwi, the leader of the opposition in Bihar, the former JNU student said: “I am quite self-assured, and there is no need for such kind of competition in politics. If he is using social media for electoral preparations, then I have absolutely no problem with that. But I do not want to mock the impoverished, by sharing pictures of helping them. Right now, I have no electoral strategy.”
Relevance of Communist parties
Asked about the notion that Communist parties are irrelevant in contemporary Indian politics, Kanhaiya pointed to the way Left-ruled Kerala has been able to succeed in fighting the coronavirus crisis.
“Everyone was saying the Left is finished and there is no need for Left parties now. But in the corona crisis, our ‘Kerala model’ proved to be successful. Today, which of the two models would you prefer, the Gujarat model or the Kerala model?” he said.
“The central government should now consult Kerala Health Minister Shailaja ‘Teacher’ (K.K. Shailaja) to prepare a holistic healthcare plan for the entire country,” Kanhaiya added.
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