Nine Opposition parties on Friday joined hands and approached the Election Commission arguing that the campaign for the forthcoming Assembly elections in Bihar cannot be “all digital” and that it should fix a “limit” for expenditure on the digital campaigns. They said a digital campaign will mean that two-third of the electorate will be left out of the process.
While the parties did not demand postponement of the elections, they asked the EC to take steps to “satisfy the people that the entire poll exercise” will not become a “super spreader event”. They asked the EC to review the situation in consultation with public health experts and other stakeholders keeping in mind the “rapidly worsening” Covid situation.
Leaders of the nine parties asked the EC to create conditions for the usual campaign ensuring maximum voter participation, a level-playing field for all contestants and proactive intervention by the poll body to penalise those seeking communal and social polarisation during the campaign.
The virtual meeting with the EC was attended by Congress’s Shaktisinh Gohil, RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha, RLSP’s Upendra Kushwaha and other leaders of the Maha Gathbandhan like former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi of HAM(S). CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, his CPI counterpart D Raja and CPI(ML) (Liberation) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya joined the meeting, indicating that the Left parties will be part of the grand alliance.
Asked whether the parties demanded postponement of the elections, Jha told The Indian Express, “We have put certain conditions (in the memorandum) which are precarious in nature. And the EC has assured us they are monitoring the coronavirus situation every day. Ultimately conducting elections has to be left to the wisdom of the EC.”
In the memorandum, the parties asked, “How does the EC plan to ensure physical distancing… People need explicit clarity so that wholesome participation of the majority of voters is not adversely impacted. People also expect the commission to ensure and satisfy the people that the entire poll exercise does not become a super spreader event.”
As for digital campaigning, the parties — without naming the BJP and JD(U) — said the ruling parties had at a meeting convened by the Chief Election Commissioner pushed their proposal “regarding virtual election campaigns through digital media and prohibiting traditional election campaign methods”.
Quoting TRAI figures, they argued that only a little over half the population has a mobile phone and 34 per cent have a smartphone. “It will be a travesty of unpardonable proportion to officially legitimize a mode of election campaign which is not only severely limited by its reach but exclusionary by its design. Almost two thirds of the electorate will be left out of the process. Uncaring about this the parties in power have kick started their virtual blitzkrieg while the Election Commission is yet to fix the limit of expenditure of this virtual political campaign.”
They reminded the EC that it has the Constitutional mandate to ensure a free and fair election guaranteeing a level playing field to all contestants and parties and asked the EC to take a “proactive approach to prioritise the health and well being of the people of Bihar as well as the spirit of democracy…”