Conducting elections in the time of pandemic poses a huge logistical challenge to the Election Commission. As Bihar gears up for the Assembly elections, scheduled in October-November, with virtual rallies and a paradigm shift in the voter outreach methods by political parties, the poll panel has demonstrated a commendable resolve by announcing new guidelines, complying with the Covid-19 protocol, to enable people to exercise their franchise. The decision is in tune with the general public sentiment favouring gradual restoration of normalcy. With economic activity picking up pace, it is only natural for the political process to gain momentum in a democratic setup. Preparations are already afoot to convene a session of Parliament, while Punjab and Haryana have decided to hold an Assembly session to meet the constitutional requirement. In Rajasthan, the Assembly session had to be called to test the floor strength of the Ashok Gehlot-led government. Neighbouring Sri Lanka has conducted parliamentary elections successfully, even as the United States gets ready for the presidential poll in November despite the enormity of the pandemic. As many as 34 countries have conducted their national Assembly or presidential elections while fighting against Covid. The EC has made the polling process more flexible by allowing those in quarantine to vote during the last hour of the voting and the liberal use of postal ballot. Separate sets of guidelines have been framed for containment zones while more polling booths and counting centres will be set up to meet physical distancing norms.
All voters must wear masks and will be given gloves at polling stations as they sign up to press voting machine buttons. However, ensuring a level playing field for all parties in what has become a virtual campaign poses a big challenge for the Election Commission. There is a need for meticulous rehearsal to fine-tune the preparations and to ensure proportionate deployment of security forces as Bihar had seen poll-related violence in the past. And, the expenditure ceiling for candidates needs to be raised to accommodate for the spending on masks, sanitisers, PPE kits and thermal screening during campaigning. The provision for health insurance for those on election duty is a welcome move. After a long period of coronavirus-induced lockdown, the Assembly elections will spur politicians to go out and connect with the masses. The EC and Bihar government need to be extra vigilant in enforcing physical distancing guidelines during the election process. A successful conduct of the polls in Bihar, the first State to witness full-fledged elections during a pandemic, may provide a blueprint for future and also serve to strengthen democracy in the face of adversity. It is also an opportunity for the poll panel to prove its efficiency once again.
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