With the home ministry guidelines continuing to ban large political events and congregations in view of Covid-19, there is talk of political parties having to rely largely on digital and electronic media for virtual campaigning in Bihar.
However, several parties like RJD, BSP, CPM, CPI, NCP, during an all-party consultation held by Bihar chief electoral officer on June 26, opposed restricting campaigning to digital mode, arguing that the huge expenditure it entails puts the cash-rich and ruling parties at an unfair advantage. JD(U) said allowing huge public rallies would run contrary to social distancing steps like limiting voter count per polling station but sought a mix of door-to-door campaign by candidates and digital publicity. RJD suggested that screens be put up at designated rally grounds to facilitate campaigning with social distancing.
“The entire campaigning protocol may need to be reviewed to ensure adherence to social distancing norms,” said an EC functionary. Highly-placed sources told TOI that the issue shall be taken up at the full Commission meeting on Friday.
For now, EC has directed that the number of electors in each polling station be limited to 1,000 and auxiliary polling stations be created in the same location/vicinity in enforcement of social distancing norms laid down by the health authorities, during polling. Also, the commission has recommended that voters above 65 years of age as well those in home/institutional quarantine be allowed postal ballot facility.
The aforesaid measures were duly discussed with the recognised political parties at an all-party meeting held by Bihar CEO on June 26, the Commission informed CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury in response to his recent letter objecting to “unilateral” extension of postal ballot facility to additional categories of voters “under Article 324 of the Constitution”, which he alleged stands to benefit the ruling party.
On Wednesday, EC, responding to Yechury, clarified that it had not used Article 324 but Section 60(c) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, that provides that “any person belonging to a class of persons notified by the Election Commission in consultation with the Government to give his vote by postal ballot.”
Stating that voters above 80 years of age, physically challenged electors and those employed in essential services had voted through postal ballot in Jharkhand polls in 2019 and Delhi polls in February this year, EC said no political party had raised any concern in this regard.