A month ago, there was a virtual mode discussion among election management bodies from about 50 countries on the predicament thrown up by Covid-19. The Association of World Election Bodies, with India as the chair, appeared determined not to let democratic elections go into a quarantine. In Bihar, what is in view is a tightrope walk between India’s norms of election management that Hillary Clinton described as the gold standard and the Covid norms of the day.
The Core Is Intact
Of course, poll managers hold a staggering ammunition of 700,000 hand sanitisers, 4.6 million masks, 600,000 PPE kits, 670,000 face shields, 2.3 million pairs of hand gloves and more. A corona code of conduct remains in place alongside the Model Code of Conduct. Yet to call the Bihar election a Covid election will be an oversimplification. All standard operational procedures – campaign regulation, alertness to left-wing extremism, polling station management, transparent services of EVMs and VVPATs, deployment of observers and special observers, a hawk’s eye on election expenditure, grievance redressal and communication network – are in place. Political advertisements face diligent pre-certification; restrictions have been mounted on publication during prohibited periods. Deviant behaviour in social media in terms of fake news and hate posts faces hot pursuit. An Election Commission of India (ECI) visit to ground zero that amounts to planting the election flag has duly taken place.
Will They turn up?
One key factor is the political competition being sufficient or not sufficient enough to ignite voting. The answers will continue to unfold till the three poll dates. Shedding initial protestations and tentativeness, commanders of political formations are already using sharp skills and sharper tongues to checkmate opponents. Star campaigners are not allowed a free flow, but political parties are availing a calibrated mix of interpersonal campaign allowed by the EC, while virtual and mass media campaigns hold a larger sway. It’s actually all on, though with a mask on face.
Extreme situations have tested election managers in the past; these were resolved by innovative harnessing of the Constitution given discretion. The pandemic has triggered some key responses – online nomination, extension of polling time, postal ballot facility to those in quarantine, last hour voting provision for the Covid-affected and reduction of voter per booth limit to 1,000 from earlier 1,500. The last provision alone has resulted in over 60% increase in polling stations and consequential logistic challenges. ECI’s decision to double the public broadcast time should help political parties handicapped by physical distancing from the electors.
Pledge to Redeem
By November 10, two results are awaited in the world’s largest Covid time polls – one is about who the Bihar electorate awards the magic mark of 122 assembly seats, the other is about the debut fight between the ballot and the virus. The yield could inspire confidence well beyond the electoral arena and is likely to percolate beyond India’s borders. The vote looks to be surging forward.
(The writer is former director general, Election Commission of India)
Read More News on
Download The Economic Times News App to get Daily Market Updates & Live Business News.