Elections During the Pandemic

6 Apr 2021

Curtain Hug

India is the largest democracy in the world with more than 900 million people eligible to
vote. In a country like India where elections mean long public rallies, door-to-door
campaigns, mass communication, posters, and billboards, the COVID-19 pandemic
has raised unprecedented challenges in conducted elections. But as the pandemic
persists with no end in sight, many countries Malaysia, Japan, South Korea prove that it
is possible to conduct elections with adequate safety measures. Following in their
footsteps, India conducted its first large-scale major election during the pandemic in
Bihar by the end of October 2020.

Despite apprehensions about health risks, Bihar elections were safely conducted in
three phases from the month of October to November 2020. The Election Commission
had laid out strict precautionary measures to be followed both during campaigning as
well as the casting of votes. Along with regular measures of sanitizer, gloves and face
mask, new rules included that not more than five people including the candidate were
allowed to campaign door-to-door, the number of vehicles for roadshows were reduced
to five, the number of voters per polling booth was also reduced and more EVMs were
introduced to reduce overcrowding. Parties were encouraged to organize “Virtual rallies”
in the state of Bihar. However, pictures and videos show much evidence to the contrary.
Parties were seen ignoring the sanctioned guidelines. Large crowds gathered
disregarding social distancing and wearing a mask. A number of guidelines existed only
as that- on the paper. There is a large digital divide in India which caused Virtual rallies
to be less successful than expected. With a high population of Bihar not having internet
facilities, candidates ultimately contravened the Covid-19 prevention guidelines for
campaigning. All the same, Bihar elections were successfully concluded with a greater
voter turnout than the 2015 elections.

With Bihar as a success model, the Election Commission had announced the election
dates for the states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, and Assam that
have State Assembly elections in 2021. The recent spike in Covid-19 cases along with
the spread of a new strain of the virus presented a challenging task for the Election
Commission. There is a need for stricter enforcement of precautionary rules of social
distancing, use of gloves, masks,& sanitizers, and deterrents against violence for having
a free and fair election. Reports and media yet again revealed inadequate adherence to
the necessitated norms. The campaigning period has now ended for all states and there
is anticipation about the voting day. Elections are the symbol of democracy and
efficacious conduction of elections during these tough times would bolster the faith of