The Election Commission of India (ECI) announced
dates of assembly elections for five states – Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and
Uttarakhand – amid rising COVID-19 cases in India on Saturday. Among these five states, all
eyes will be on important Uttar Pradesh elections because one-sixth of the
Indian population lives in the state and it houses the maximum number of Lok
Sabha seats, 80. Though it is assembly elections, the result of this polling
will indicate in which way the political pendulum will swing before the 2024
Lok Sabha elections.
These elections are also touted to be
crucial, not only for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh,
Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand, and Congress in Punjab but also for the
challengers, like the Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP and Trinamool Congress and Aam
Aadmi Party (AAP) in Goa.
But due to the third wave which became
prevalent in almost all poll-bound states, political parties were forced to
think something out of the box to woo their voters.
leaders contracting COVID-19 affected physical campaigns
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across
the country, several political leaders, including BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, have
tested positive for the virus recently. As leaders tested positive, their
physical campaigns have been significantly affected.
During his recent visit to Lucknow, Chief
Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra said, “All parties told us that
elections should be held on time following COVID-19 protocols.” The Allahabad
High Court simultaneously appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the ECI
to immediately ban rallies and public meetings and also consider postponing
elections. But all the states, despite announcing restrictions to limit public
movement to curb the spread of the virus, did not announce any restrictions on
political rallies and meetings.
In 2021, when assembly elections were
conducted in five states – Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West
Bengal – in multiple phases, all political parties contested in the elections
did not bother to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. Though then CEC Sunil Arora
pleaded with political parties to stay away from holding large rallies, his
plea was ignored. As social distancing norms went for a toss, COVID-19 cases
spiked in these states post-elections. On Saturday, ECI said no physical political rallies and roadshows will be allowed till January 15, 2022.
woo digital campaigns
Now in 2022, as the coronavirus variant
omicron is wrecking havoc on the country’s daily life, even after inoculating
the country’s adults, political parties seemed to have learnt a lesson. Since
political leaders have started contracting COVID-19, political parties have
opted for digital campaigns. The ruling BJP party in Uttar Pradesh is planning
100 virtual rallies for every phase of the election. The BJP leadership has
discussed the digital strategy with the party’s UP in the last few days.
The BJP plans to use 3D Studio Max
technology that will allow leaders sitting at different places to appear on a
virtual stage from where they will address gatherings. On the other hand, with
‘Priyanka Ke Saath Live’, the Congress launched its virtual election campaign
in Uttar Pradesh on Friday. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
interacted with people in a Facebook live session.
On Friday, Congress spokesperson Surendra
Rajput said the party has decided to stop physical rallies and conduct small
meetings and door-to-door campaigns. Similarly, BJP national spokesperson Gopal
Agrawal said that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge but the party has
prepared a blueprint for a digital campaign. Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav
is, too, planning virtual campaigns.
Now, as political parties decided not to
hold physical rallies in the run-up to assembly elections, their main challenge
in holding digital rallies would be ECI’s guidelines.