The opposition parties in Bihar have written a joint letter to the Election Commission asking to ensure an “equal opportunity” in the state election due in October-November. The opposition parties said the Election Commission should ensure the twin goals are met – safety of voters from COVID-19, and free and fair election.
“People also expect the commission to ensure and satisfy the people that entire poll exercise does not become a super-spreader event,” they said in the letter.
“The state has a population of around 13 crore with 7.5 crore voters. How does the Election Commission plan to ensure physical distancing of at least two yards recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation) and ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), repeatedly advocated by the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) himself?” the opposition parties said.
“People need explicit clarity so that wholesome participation of majority of voters is not adversely impacted,” they said.
The opposition parties raised concern that the BJP is pushing a plan for virtual election campaigns and seeking a ban on physical campaigns due to the COVID-19 threat.
“According to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India), only a little over half the population has a mobile phone. Only 34 per cent have a smartphone. It will be a travesty of unpardonable proportion to officially legitimise 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,” the opposition parties said.
“We request you to review and reassess the situation, in consultation with public health experts and other stakeholders, keeping in mind the rapidly worsening situation. We request you to take an informed decision at the earliest which accords due importance to people’s health and lives and does not compromise on the sanctity of the democratic verdict of the people,” they said.
A virtual meeting was held today with the Election Commission and nine parties, who later gave a memorandum to the poll body.
The postal ballot facility for people above the age of 65 years – recommended by the Election Commission earlier this month – will not be operative for the Bihar assembly elections or the by-polls scheduled to be held later this year. The Election Commission said it was done “due to logistics, manpower and safety protocols of COVID-19”.
The postal ballot facility was so far reserved only for people over the age of 80 years and those employed in essential services and are not posted in their home state.
Bihar has also decided to create another 34,000-odd polling stations – an increase of 45 per cent – taking take the total number of polling stations to around 1.06 lakh. This, the Election Commission said, would entail formidable logistical challenges of mobilizing 1.8 lakh more polling personnel and other additional resources. The by-elections would entail similar challenges.