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Opinion: For BJP, Elections Come First, National Health Crisis Nowhere On The List

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

The election results for the five state legislative assemblies in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Pondicherry have been announced. The main ruling party of the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has received a big jolt in these elections, as the people have rejected its various pretenses and promises of delivering ‘asol parivartan’ and ‘achche din’. The party could only manage to come to power in Assam and Pondicherry, while elsewhere it received a resounding defeat.

Even in Assam, its return to power has been possible by stitching uneasy alliances between different ethnic groups of the state, and exploiting differences amidst them. In Pondicherry, the party is in alliance with the All India N. R. Congress (AINRC)  and has formed a government there for the first time. The BJP’s road to power in Pondicherry was marked by defections and the dastardly role played by the last Lieutenant Governor.

However, the most important state for the BJP in these elections was West Bengal. The election results have been announced and the government of the incumbent party- the Trinamool Congress (TMC)- is set to return. The elections, which saw much vitriol between the TMC and the BJP, was marked by an all-out effort by the latter to capture the assembly.

BJP sought to capitalize on the gains it had made in the General Elections of 2019. Numerous arrangements were made by the Election Commission of India (ECI) to make it an easy road for BJP, from announcing an 8-phase election at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic raged in the country, to the numerous actions it took against the ruling party candidates. However, one major concession that the ECI granted was the holding of big rallies in the state, in the late phase of the elections when the COVID-19 situation in other major states of the country such as Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh had become a cause of serious concern.

The hallmark of the present assembly election in West Bengal were the major rallies held by not just the BJP leaders of the state, but even the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of the country. According to sources, Amit Shah addressed over 50 public meetings, rallies, and road shows, while PM Modi conducted 18 physical rallies. The election also saw 22 Union Ministers including Smriti Irani, Rajnath Singh, and Dharmendra Pradhan, as well as 6 Chief Ministers including Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath joining in as well, who are believed to have addressed over 40 public meetings.

During the entire course of the 8-phase election in Bengal, the country saw the COVID-19 graph worsening. By late March and early April, the situation had spiralled out of control. However, the leadership of the party at the centre only seemed to care about the Bengal elections. In a situation of national emergency, the PM was seen making oblique references and cat-calls to the incumbent Bengal CM, instead of taking immediate steps to control the emergency situation in the country.

Although the other parties in the fray also held big public rallies, it has been reported that extra-efforts were expended to conjure huge gatherings at the rallies of the Prime Minister. It has been reported that at the rally of the PM, at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Ground, the state BJP unit had set a target of 10 lakh attendees. It can safely be assumed that similar efforts were made for the other rallies of the PM in the state, as well as for the BJP’s other stalwart leaders. With such mammoth gatherings, it was expected that a good showing would be relayed all over the state with the enthusiastic help of the national media and a section of the Bengali media. This would, in effect, give that impression that the BJP are set to trounce TMC in the elections.

The effect of such huge rallies has not been what was desired by the BJP. On the contrary, these huge gatherings have led to the explosion of COVID-19 cases in the state. As per the available data, the growth of the second wave of COVID-19 in Bengal is the fastest of any state in the country. The state has earned the distinction of achieving the fastest COVID-19 growth rate of 9.5%. Having just 3293 active cases on 1st March, 2021, the state saw a jump of more than one lakh active cases, with there being 1,16,659 active Cases as of 1st May, 2021. The situation of the country being dire, such a huge caseload of COVID-19 patients would only result in many more easily avoidable deaths.

However, there is a direct relation of the election with the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state. The huge rallies which were organized by the BJP saw lakhs in attendance. The defeat of BJP brings to the fore the question of the crowds which attended the huge rallies and public meetings organized by them.

'Corona is gone' West Bengal BJP chief Dilip Ghosh declares to a packed rally in Hooghly
A rally in West Bengal, headed by BJP chief Dilip Ghosh. Image Credit: Video Grab.

The large crowds at the BJP rallies were the result of inter-district and inter-constituency mobilization by the party in order to present before the people a spectacle of huge support it was garnering. Moreover, these public meetings and rallies were marked by the absence of the local population. Also, in many rallies, workers from the neighbouring state of Bihar were seen as the principal crowd. In fact, at many rallies the attendees openly told the media reporters that they had been brought from elsewhere by the organizers by promising money and other sundry enticements. The big crowds which were managed at the rallies and public meetings of the star campaigners of BJP invariably were composed of supporters from outside the districts and constituencies where the rallies were held.

The idea was to colour the electorate’s perception in the constituency and elsewhere that there was huge ground support for the BJP, thereby aiming to convert this perception into votes. In reality, these rallies and public meetings failed to garner enough votes for the BJP to win the elections. It has been reported that of the 18 rallies held by the PM, the candidates in 10 constituencies lost. On the other hand, these public meetings in effect played the role of super-spreader events as the number of active cases in Bengal multiplied with the elections of each phase.

The current condition of healthcare in the country is heart-wrenching. Patients are being denied basic medical facilities such as beds in hospitals, oxygen, medicines, and so on. Thousands of people are dying across the country with each passing day. The situation was already grim three weeks back, and the huge rallies of the PM and the BJP machinery only worsened it. It has allowed the oppositional voices to point out the sheer apathy which the BJP bears towards the people’s plight. However, the role of BJP-mobilized crowds acting as super-spreaders in rally after rally has not been talked about much. The fact that these super-spreader events occured with the mingling of crowds at different rallies across the state, only served to make the Bengal COVID-19 graph the fastest in terms of spread.

Even as we write this, the situation in the state and the country is becoming more pathetic. The BJP, which due to various reasons had acquired a certain legitimacy among the population of the country, has resoundingly lost it, as witnessed by the present election results. Moreover, its role as the super-spreader agent of COVID-19 has only made the dire situation of the country worse. Its role during the present crisis as a power-greedy party when death prevails all-around will certainly earn it the epithet of the ‘purveyor of death’ in politics.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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