By Atul Chandra
In what was described as a major setback before the state Assembly elections in early 2022, the Bharatiya Janata Party not only lost seats to the Samajwadi Party and independents in the Panchayat elections but also some face. These elections were held to elect 58,194 Gram Pradhans 75,808 Kshetra Panchayat members and 3,051 Zila Panchayat ward members. A senior functionary of the party acknowledged that BJP’s performance was below its own expectations yet was satisfied with the victory of fewer than 1000 zila Panchayat members out of 3000 it had backed. We did much better this time than in last elections, the party countered.
The BJP had mobilized all its resources and was probably looking forward to a landslide victory. It counted on these polls so that it could discard the tag of being an urban-centric party. It is now counting on the sizable number of independents with an eye on the elections for zila Panchayat chairpersons and Block chiefs.
What has come as a double whammy for the government is the Panchayat elections having triggered an outbreak of Covid-19 in villages where health infrastructure was already in a shambles. Inadequacy of the government’s preparedness in the hinterland was fully exposed when people began dying due to Covid-19. Before the virus spread to villages, it took a heavy toll of lives of those involved in the electoral process. The Allahabad High Court stayed the polls but the government pressed ahead after managing to get the stay vacated by the Supreme Court. The Allahabad High Court has, however, been haranguing the government for its mismanagement of the pandemic. Early this month the high court rapped the state and also the State Election Commission for Covid-19 mismanagement during Panchayat elections. The court termed the deaths due to lack of oxygen a criminal act by those responsible for it.
The state government woke to the catastrophe but only after hundreds of bodies were found floating in the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and reports of people dying in villages began appearing in newspapers and news channels. Bodies being thrown into the rivers was passed off as tradition and due to high costs of cremation. Even after Yogi Adityanath ordered patrolling of rivers and river banks, bodies were still being thrown into the river. Chances are they were not counted as Covid deaths. In any case until the situation went out of control, tests for Covid-19 were hardly being conducted in villages. The government claims that tests have now been ramped up.
True, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has got a ‘well-done’ certificate from the World Health Organisation for his Covid-19 management. However, those closer to reality would still go by the high court’s observations against the government, holding it singularly responsible for the fatalities and spread of the virus in rural areas.
The silver lining is that the government seems to have learnt a lesson from all the mess it created by its poor handling of Covid-19’s second wave. Measures were being put in place to tackle the third wave, which is likely to affect children and also to provide timely treatment to those afflicted with the new scourge—Black Fungus. Vaccination drive is underway but is constrained by a national shortage of the shots. And that holds the key.