Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav may be Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's sharpest critic, but he's nowhere to be seen at a time when the ruling coalition is on the backfoot amid mounting encephalitis deaths. In fact, even leaders from his own party can only speculate on his whereabouts these days.
"We should check whether he is even here," news agency ANI quoted party colleague Raghuvansh Prasad Singh as saying. "I have no idea, really. I can only guess that he has gone to watch the Cricket World Cup. But hey, this is just a guess."
With over 130 children dying of encephalitis in Bihar so far, the BJP-Janata Dal United coalition government is facing one of its worst crises in years. Even as public anger against the administration rose, the Chief Minister was greeted with cries of "go back" upon his visit to Muzaffarpur yesterday. The protesters were miffed that he had decided to visit the region -- the worst affected by the viral disease -- over 18 days after the outbreak occurred.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, RJD on Tejashwi Yadav: I don't know exactly where is he, maybe he has gone to watch the World Cup, I am not sure about it. pic.twitter.com/bTezGnbN5O— ANI (@ANI) June 19, 2019
Health ministers at the state and central levels are no hit on the popularity charts either. While Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Kumar Choubey had his eyes deceptively closed during a press meet on encephalitis on Sunday, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey drew widespread criticism for enquiring about an ongoing cricket match at another event held for the purpose. The next day, Muzaffarpur parliamentarian Ajay Nishad further fanned the flames of public anger by attributing the encephalitis deaths to a few "small mistakes" by the administration.
Even though the RJD consistently targets the government on encephalitis deaths, Tejashwi Yadav has been relatively silent ever since his party failed to win even a single seat in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections. In fact, the last time he even posted a Twitter message was to congratulate his father, party chief Lalu Yadav, on his birthday over nine days ago.
Meanwhile, the worsening situation in the state has attracted the attention of agencies such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The agency has sought a detailed report on the matter from state as well as central authorities within four weeks, and observed that the deaths of children on such a scale could only mean a "possible flaw" in the implementation of vaccination and awareness programmes.
Encephalitis is a viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms such as high fever, convulsions and headaches in patients. Doctors claim that only the monsoon, which is still over a week away, can effectively arrest its spread.
Tejashwi Yadav had dabbled in cricket before becoming a full-time politician in the early 2010s.