R K Sinha
The first elections post-onset of the Covid-19 pandemic were held for the Bihar Legislative Assembly in the months of November and December 2020. The Election Commission had patted its back and congratulated itself on the successful completion of those elections. Following that, the country bore witness to the election fiasco in the West Bengal Legislative Assembly which was carried out in 8 phases from March to April 2021.
Then began the country’s challenging battle against the second wave of Covid-19. Recently, the Election Commission also announced the schedule for the Legislative Assembly elections of five states, namely Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, and Uttarakhand. As a result of these elections, the country will receive around 690 new MLAs and about 20 new Rajya Sabha members. This entire process of these assembly elections will unfold steadily over two months.
During this period, around 18 and a half crore voters will exercise their franchise to vote. Overall, this assembly election will be held on a massive scale. Although there was an apprehension that the election process might be postponed due to the third wave of the ongoing and seemingly never-ending pandemic, after taking a thorough review of the situation, the Election Commission has concluded that the elections will be conducted discreetly. Anyway, postponing elections is not that easy either. As soon as the code of conduct came into force, the administration in various districts intensified the work of removing posters and hoardings up to the assembly constituency level. Now, it will be a challenge for political parties to reach out to every voter amid the Covid-19 transition.
In the Panchayat, the Municipal Corporation, and the Vidhan Sabha elections, the candidates have been going door-to-door. Now, it would not be right to expect the same in these elections. As the global pandemic doesn’t seem to be drawing to an end, the approach and procedure of the elections are subject to change. The elections will have to be conducted in such a manner that the outcome of the pandemic on the public is negligible. However, the responsibility to ensure that the elections are conducted safely does not solely lie on the Election Commission. For this, the leaders of political parties, the volunteers, and all the workers will also have to remain vigilant.
Voters will also have to make sacrifices to vote for the consummation of the festival of democracy. It is common knowledge that subsequent to the announcement of the election schedule, the model code of conduct has also come into force. In the midst of peaking fear and terror of the third wave of the pandemic, relief can be drawn from two facts. First, in the states where elections are going to be held, the majority of voters have at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, although the pace of vaccination has been slow in Punjab. That was not the case when elections were held in Bihar or West Bengal. Everyone knows that the only way to avoid being infected by the virus is to get vaccinated on time. That, along with wearing a mask and following the norms of social distancing can help keep the virus at bay. The second thing is, in these elections, all the political parties will have to reach out to their voters through the virtual approach. They will lay more emphasis on virtual rallies only. In this manner, all unnecessary gatherings can be avoided.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is powerful and active on various social media platforms. They have scores of followers on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, with their numbers only hinting at an upward trend. It also has a wide network of WhatsApp groups. In such a situation, it can efficiently organize meetings in virtual mode as per its needs. Other parties also understand the importance of social media. A budget of Rs.40 lakhs has been capped for contesting the elections. In such a situation, the candidates of different parties will have to work very carefully. Because in this age of technology, it is not a difficult task for the Election Commission to keep track of every penny spent.
Although all political parties are deliberating about keeping distance from tainted leaders, every party requires a candidate. The Bharatiya Janata Party is undertaking all possible efforts to conquer all the four other states, including Uttar Pradesh. It is also working hard for the accomplishment of its goal. Currently, it is soaring ahead in the race against all other parties. The BJP has snatched almost all the significant points from the hands of the opposition. Apart from the election announcements of various parties, in totality, the BJP is making strides in almost all the spheres affecting life. Whether it be solving regional problems, turning different castes or classes in their favor, or capitalizing on religious sentiments. All prominent leaders of the party are currently working in the field.
The influence of the Samajwadi Party is limited only to Uttar Pradesh. Congress is fighting to hold onto the rank of the number four party in Uttar Pradesh. There is no respectable place left for it in such a unique state of the nation. However, the Gandhi family claims to be from Uttar Pradesh. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) visible in Punjab and Uttarakhand is nowhere to be found in Uttar Pradesh. So, it is pretty evident that India’s largest party, BJP, will try to form its Government in all five states.
However, various parties will pose obstacles and challenge it, especially the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and Congress and AAP in Uttarakhand and Punjab. In the upcoming assembly elections, the whole country will have to keep an eye on the situation in Punjab. There the conditions continue to remain unfavorable. Anti-national elements are openly making their move under the guise of the farmers’ movement. There is a Congress-led government there, which is prone to a breakdown and clash within the party. Anti-BJP forces are also active. The new Director-General of Police and Election Commission of Punjab will need to ensure fair elections in these regions. Punjab is one of the border-states of the country and cannot be left unchecked.
Recently in Punjab, the convoy of our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was stopped in its tracks as a part of a conspiracy. The whole country witnessed it. It is the united desire of the nation that the voters reject such anti-national forces during the Punjab Assembly elections. India also hopes that the consequences of the Coronavirus should not come to the fore during the elections of these five states. Due to the widespread Covid-19 vaccination drive, we hope that the country will celebrate its democratic festival properly.
(The writer is a former MP)
R K Sinha