PATNA/NEW DELHI/MUZAFFARPUR: waiting to meet the doctor at a nursing home in Muzaffarpur, Rupesh Kumar Sinha, 44, a medical representative with a pharmaceutical company, said the Covid-19 pandemic and the threat it poses was not even a talking point among the people, leave alone an election issue.
“I am in the field of health and I have seen patients suffering from coronavirus. People are a bit scared but not overly worried,” he said, dismissing the suggestion that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s promise to provide the Covid vaccine free to Bihar was a game changer.
From Muzaffarpur and Saran to Samastipur and Patna, the BJP’s populist promise grabbed media headlines and was a hot topic of debate in drawing rooms last week, but for the voters in the dust bowls of Bihar, Covid and the vaccine are hardly issues to be animated about.
“When the government could not make proper arrangements for Covid-19 patients, it is foolish to believe such false promises,” said Saroj Kumar Thakur, 35, who runs a salon in Patna.
Why the voters are not deeply impressed by the free vaccine promise lies perhaps in the Covid numbers. Despite being the third-most populated state with a creaking public health infrastructure, Bihar has done well on the virus front, making it a non-issue and hardly a mass concern.
While the national case fatality rate is 1.5%, Bihar’s is a mere 0.499%, one of the lowest in the country. The disease’s incidence per million in India is 5,790.1 but in Bihar it is 1,572.5, the lowest in the country.
On total deaths and active cases also the state has not done badly. The highest death count is in Maharashtra at 38,717, followed by Andhra Pradesh, 9,917, and Karnataka, 9,461. Bihar’s is only 925, one of the lowest among the populous states.
As for active cases, the worst five states are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu. With 11,420 active cases, Bihar’s numbers are one of the lowest among heavily populated states.
The state is at the 11th position in terms of total cases, seventeenth position in active cases and eleventh in recoveries.
But perhaps more important than the Covid figures is the socio-economic profile of the people affected by the deadly disease, which has the potential to make the BJP’s promise a dud.
20% of Covid-affected from middle class, 5% from low income group or BPL, says govt
According to the Bihar health department, a majority of the people, 45-55%, infected by the disease belongs to the upper income group, who hardly take the trouble to go out and cast their votes.
Another 15-20% of the Covid-affected belong to the middle income group while only 1-5% of the people affected by the virus are from the low income group or below poverty line.
It is common knowledge that it is the poor who go out in far greater numbers to exercise their franchise. But they have been the least affected by the disease, which perhaps explains why they are indifferent to the free vaccine and Covid.
A recent survey conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for the Studies of Developing Societies and Lokniti found that the top five issues in Bihar are development, unemployment, inflation, poverty and education.
Election analyst and educationist Raj Kumar said the BJP’s Covid-19 vaccine promise had proved to be a damp squib as the voters, battling issues of unemployment and inflation, were more worried about them. Mangal Jha, a priest in Saran, described the promise as a “lie”.
“When it (the vaccine) hasn’t even been developed, how can it be given to the people of Bihar? That too immediately after the election results?” he asked.
Mohd Anzaar, 48, a provision store owner in Muzaffarpur, said everybody can see through the BJP’s game plan. “It is only to fetch votes, but that will not happen,” he said.