Free and fair elections in the Indian Democracy is very important and central to its core existence. We have so far witnessed many elections in different circumstances, but it’s really important for us to understand how the nature of elections and its campaigns are going to get moulded in the near future. This pandemic is pushing us towards rethinking or rescheduling our conventional strategies of voting, campaigning or conducting elections. As there are social restrictions due to this and it’s advisable to prevent mass gatherings and promote social distancing, this raises a question of concern as to whether we need elections at this point of time making people more vulnerable towards this pandemic or do we need to reorient our methodologies as the elections come with Covid-19 restrictions.
Several countries across the globe have deferred or rescheduled their elections in the face of coronavirus. Well its quite debatable to digest that India is planning to conduct Bihar State Assembly Elections which is scheduled to be held in the month of October-November. Conducting an election at this point of time poses different questions as to How the state is going to prevent the election as the potential of coronavirus spreader? How the concerned authorities are going to ensure the social distancing as Bihar is a densely populated state and people are already not following social distancing? How they would ensure that Covid-restrictions do not come in the path of free and fair elections? These issues would definitely come as a challenge for the institutions. Currently Bihar is witnessing more than 6000 confirmed cases and it’s really difficult and more than a struggle for the state to make a balance between Covid-19 cases and the public health infrastructure which means there are chances of increasing vulnerabilities and exacerbation of unprecedented crisis.
प्रधानमंत्री को अपने बयान से चीन के षड्यंत्रकारी रुख को ताकत नहीं देनी चाहिए: मनमोहन
In the light of this, the Election Commission is reimagining the entire electoral process by increasing the number of booths and promoting remote voting for the vulnerable age groups to reduce and manage the crowd. What remains a challenge is how the Election Commission is going to ensure that the voter turnout remains high despite the Covid-19 restrictions. And would capping the number of voters per booth prevent them from getting affected as Bihar is already known for its density .Moreover, the state services are already involved in dealing with this crisis which is the need of the hour and announcing elections amidst such already engaging situations would mean entirely shifting the state services to deal with the elections and would exhaust the state machinery.
This pandemic has also pushed us to the virtual world in every context. Be it official meetings, webinars, work from home or even our daily interfaces with the virtual world has increased. The electoral campaigns are also visualized from a virtual perspective, be it conducting virtual rallies, WhatsApp groups, Facebook meets, screens at the panchayat levels or live streaming etc. And the Political Parties are also choosing this strategy. This also leads to what is known as the Digital Divide in the current situation. There are people who have no access to these digital resources, even if they have most of them are males. The Females are somewhere left out because of this divide. Isn’t this a challenge for the political parties as to how are they going to campaign for these people? How are they going to make the campaigns more inclusive in nature? Elections in a true essence are not just going to the poll and simply casting the vote, it revolves around people knowing the political candidates and their agendas. Connecting through this virtual platform is more connecting with the youth because the youth is clustered around the social media and in one way the parties get a chance to address the youth in a more influential manner.
स्ट्रीमिंग प्लेटफॉर्मों के जरिये प्रसारित कार्यक्रमों पर सेंसरशिप लागू हो: नीतीश
There is one question which is also being discussed as to Can Bihar replicate the South Korean Model of election amidst this pandemic? South Korea conducted its elections in a smooth manner as the country took several precautionary measures before conducting the elections. The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea at the time of elections could be assessed by the fact that the country emerged as a major hotspot outside China. Still the ruling party took the decision to conduct the elections keeping in mind the social distancing. There were instructions to the parties not to violate the social distancing norms and special attention was given to the polling booths in order to adhere to the norms. Before entering the polling booth, the voter was required to use a sanitizer, wear plastic gloves and get the body temperature checked and if the temperature exceeded the desired limits then the voter was asked to vote in a separate isolated polling booth. Even the people who were quarantined were asked to come and vote after the normal procedure ended. The election officials were provided with safe and protective gears just like the health workers. The voting procedure for the Parliamentary elections in South Korea was successful.
The question is as to whether Bihar can replicate the South Korean Model and conduct elections maintaining social distancing norms is still a matter of discussion. Because adopting such models is going to test the efficiency of the State Machinery and would require the state to provide with all the precautionary measures.
Well whether Bihar adopts this model or not ,we all are going to witness our first elections amidst this global pandemic and this is how the nature of elections which were traditionally a mega event with noisy campaigns and mass social gatherings are going to change keeping in mind the fact that Democratic Elections need to be free ,fair and in the interest of the citizens.