New Delhi: The Election Commission is likely to opt for a ‘mixed’ campaign format for the upcoming Bihar assembly polls — a combination of digital and physical campaigning.
Officials told ThePrint that the concerns of some opposition parties about an all-digital campaign are unfounded, since the EC has never said that’s the way it will be.
In a letter addressed to political parties, the EC asked for the parties’ views and suggestions on the election campaign and public meetings by 31 July, “so that necessary guidelines may be formed up for the election campaign by candidates or political parties for the conduct of election during pandemic period”.
A senior EC official, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint: “We are in touch with the parties regularly, and are going to take all their views into account. But what we can say as of now is that it will be a combination of digital and physical campaigning.”
However, the official said the EC is also trying to ensure that the campaign takes place in tandem with provisions of the Disaster Management Act.
“For example, even if we allow physical campaigning, we cannot allow 1 lakh people to go for a rally… So, we will figure out a way of limiting the number of people who can attend rallies, just like we have limited the number of people in a polling booth,” the official said, referring to the EC statement that no more than 1,000 voters would be allowed to cast vote at a particular polling booth.
Several opposition parties have urged the EC to postpone the Bihar elections due in October-November because of the Covid-19 situation, lest elections become a “super-spreader event”.
They have also told the EC that digital campaigning is inherently discriminatory as a large part of the population does not have access to smartphones.
In a letter to the EC last week, parties like the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the CPI(M) and others said: “It will be a travesty of unparalleled proportion to officially legitimise a mode of election campaign which is not only severely limiting by its reach but exclusionary by design.”
The letter stated that almost two-thirds of the electorate will be left out of the process as it quoted Telecom Regulatory Authority of India figures to claim that only a little over half the population of Bihar has a mobile phone, and only 34 per cent a smartphone.
“It is in the constitutional mandate of the Election Commission to ensure a free and fair election guaranteeing a level playing field to all contestants and political parties,” the parties said.
The parties had earlier fiercely opposed the proposed provision to allow voters above the age of 65 to vote through postal ballots. The EC then announced it would not implement the provision in Bihar.
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