Political equation in Bihar could change after Arunachal developments, says RJD


BJP could ‘poach ruling alliance partner JD(U)’s legislators’ in ‘Bihar’s turn after Arunachal’, say Opposition leaders

A day after six Janata Dal-United (JD-U) MLAs switched sides to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Arunachal Pradesh, the Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress party leaders in Bihar on Saturday said it was now “Bihar’s turn” and the BJP would “poach ruling alliance partner JD(U)’s legislators”. Calling it an “unfriendly move”, the JD(U) began its two-day national council meeting from Saturday in Patna in which Arunachal Pradesh issue too cropped up.

“Following Arunachal Pradesh, the disintegration of JD(U) in Bihar too is very much likely, and a decline of the party [JD-U] is now certain,” said RJD leader and party MLA from Hasanpur Tej Pratap Yadav.

Senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari asked, “The development in Arunachal Pradesh was part of a BJP strategy to humiliate Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and also to cut his political stature to size, and this started during the recently held Bihar Assembly poll with LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) chief Chirag Paswan’s rebellion. What else could explain the poaching of six JD(U) MLAs in Arunachal, where the BJP has been a ruling party with a comfortable majority?”

Mr. Tiwari also added that “power equations in Bihar too could undergo a change after the Arunachal Pradesh development”. “Nitish Kumar now has to take a tough decision as to what is more important to him — his own political stature or the trappings of power,” said the RJD leader.

Another senior RJD leader and party spokesperson Bhai Virendra suggested Mr. Kumar sever his ties with the BJP and form a new government in Bihar with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s leadership. “Give up your chair and help Tejashwi Yadav in forming a new government in Bihar as it would help in retaining a bit of your political respectability. Else, the JD(U) [in Bihar] would suffer the same fate it has in Arunachal Pradesh,” Mr. Virendra told media persons.

Party leader and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha also echoed the same view: “After Arunachal Pradesh, it may be Bihar’s turn for BJP [on the recent development].”

Senior State Congress party leader and party spokesperson Prem Chandra Mishra also said, “The BJP may repeat [the events in] Arunachal Pradesh in Bihar too with its own ruling alliance partner JD(U).”

Earlier, JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi had said that what had happened in Arunachal Pradesh was “an unfriendly move by a friendly party”. “The BJP has an absolute majority in Arunachal Pradesh but despite this, they let JD(U) MLAs to join them. It was not proper,” he said.

The JD(U), meanwhile, began its two-day national council meet on Saturday at the party headquarters in Patna where party leaders said that the Arunachal Pradesh development was raised and discussed. Party president and CM Nitish Kumar too participated in the meeting, along with party leaders from all across the country.

Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal, however, tried to downplay the Arunachal Pradesh development saying, “All four alliance parties are running the government well in Bihar and there is no difference between them. Let’s talk about the Arunachal Pradesh development there [in Arunachal Pradesh], not in Bihar.”

But party spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel said, “JD(U) MLAs themselves had applied to join the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh. They were in the BJP earlier and now they did their homecoming.”

There is a view in Bihar that the Arunachal Pradesh development could trigger a “difference” between the two ruling alliance partners in Bihar — the BJP and the JD(U).

“JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar is a politician with a lot of patience and he waits for the opportune moment to strike. This Arunachal Pradesh development can trigger a difference between the two allies as the BJP in the present regime of NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in Bihar did not appear ready to play second fiddle to a weakened Nitish Kumar,” political analyst Ajay Kumar told The Hindu, adding, “In retaliation, the JD(U) may put up its candidates in the West Bengal Assembly poll likely to be held in April-May 2021.”

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Health versus economy trade-off isn’t a solvable equation


Donald Trump and others may have argued the cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease but the renewed outbreak in Victoria, whether it’s a “second wave” or an acceleration of the first, underscores the reality that, until there is an effective and widely-distributed vaccine, there is no cure for either the virus or the economy.

The Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has said that the six-week Victorian lockdown will cost the national economy about $1 billion a week.

Until Victoria lost control of the virus the national economy was expected to shrink by slightly less than 4 per cent this calendar year, with a horrific June quarter followed by a significant bounce back as the economy reopened.

The numbers – the more visible and calculable economic costs of the pandemic – are now clearly going to be worse, given that Victoria represents about a quarter of the national economy and that its lockdown will have spillover effects even into those states that have, so far, been able to suppress the virus.

The great unknown is whether the virus can actually be suppressed, given how infectious it has shown itself to be.

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In the absence of a vaccine, is the Victorian experience likely to be the norm, with economies veering continuously between cautious reopenings and then hard lockdowns and is there an alternative to Victoria’s harsh response to the surge in its infections?

The obvious reference point is the much-discussed Swedish strategy. The Swedes didn’t impose a lockdown, instead advocating voluntary social distancing, bans on large gatherings and table-only service in bars and restaurants.

There have been about 6000 deaths attributable to the coronavirus in Sweden and its economy contracted by 8.6 per cent in the June quarter.

The economic impacts weren’t as severe as those experienced elsewhere in Europe – Germany’s economy, for instance, shrank 10.1 per cent – but they are very similar to those of its Nordic neighbours and the death rate is about four times that of Germany’s, about 10 times Denmark’s and nearly 25 times Norway’s, countries where the restrictions on activity have been far more stringent.

Sweden took an unconventional approach to a lockdown. Credit:AP

That would suggest there isn’t that much difference in the economic costs of doing little to contain the virus or adopting strong measures but there is, however, a very large disparity in the health outcomes.

Economists are scrambling to put some kind of analytical framework around the “lives versus economic costs” question but there is no conclusive answer because the inputs of data aren’t sufficiently reliable, given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic for modern economies and the novelty of communities’ responses to it.

One of the great unknowns is whether – even if the virus were suppressed – consumers would still behave differently relative to their pre-pandemic norms.

Some studies of mobility, using mobile phone data, have found that even as restrictions eased consumers did behave differently, with less activity, an avoidance of congested areas such as shopping centres and a shift away from non-essential activities.

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It’s obviously premature to determine whether that could be a permanent shift in consumer behaviours but, as long as the threat of the virus and fresh outbreaks persist, consumer fear of infection is likely to impact and depress economic activity.

That suggests that even when the hard lockdown of Victoria ends, there will be an ongoing reduction in economic output and not just in Victoria. As the Victorian experience has also demonstrated, at this point in the life cycle of the virus, infections can be contained but not to the point where they are eradicated.

As restrictions are eased, infection rates can rise rapidly and, with some in the community considering themselves relatively immune to anything but mild effects, quickly get out of control. The initial boost to the economy from reopening can evaporate almost overnight.

It is, perhaps, the human and economic costs of continually opening and closing economies – big businesses won’t invest or employ with that kind of prolonged uncertainty and smaller businesses won’t survive it – that says prioritising the health response is also the best economic strategy.

In the absence of a vaccine, that may have to be a long-term strategy, albeit hopefully with fewer restrictions and a reduced economic cost. There are academic papers that, having come to that conclusion, argue for more targeted containment measures once the virus is under control.

They advocate strict quarantines for the infected and the most vulnerable groups in the community but a gradual normalisation of activity for those with some level of immunity or at low risk and argue for a granular approach to different industries and activities, depending on their levels of perceived risk.

Constraints on activity could be dialled up or down, incrementally and tightly-targeted at a local level, in response to infection rates.

It is possible to try to put a value on the lives lost to the pandemic and then try to compare that to the economic cost of the lockdowns but, apart from being a distasteful calculation with significant moral dimensions, the inputs are very rubbery and the concept is simplistic.

Health systems do put a value on lives to decide how much to spend on particular treatments. Comparisons between the value of lives lost and losses of economic output are made in a lot of pandemic-related research.

Containing that side of the health-versus-the-economy equation to the value of lives directly lost to the virus would, however, grossly underestimate the pandemic’s wider health and welfare costs.

On the other side of the equation – the broader economic impacts – the experience of Victoria relative to those states that have reopened their economies will provide better insights into the costs of a harsh lockdown after an economy has started to reopen.

With the threat of renewed infections still affecting the psychology and behaviour of consumers and businesses in the more fortunate states, we’ll also have a better sense of what a post-pandemic normal might look like if the virus is suppressed but not eradicated.

It is unlikely, however, to alter the convictions of politicians and many economists that the best economic strategy for responding to significant outbreaks of the virus is to lock the economy down as tightly as possible for as long as it takes to choke the rate of community transmission.

A six-week or even three-month lockdown appears preferable to the long-term damage done if there were a rolling series of reopenings and closures. The health and economic outcomes don’t appear, from the evidence to date, to be conflicting priorities but rather inter-dependent.

Setting aside the moral questions, sustainable economic growth, even at a pandemic-reduced level, can’t be achieved unless the virus is sustainably contained, whatever the immediate economic cost.

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