New Delhi, July 17 : Amid a spike in the number of novel coronavirus cases in Bihar, a delegation of opposition parties on Friday approached the ECI and urged for “proactive approach” to priorities the health and well-being of Bihar’s people as well as of the spirit of democracy.
The parties urged the Election Commission of India (ECI) to evolve a mechanism that “protects both the health of the democracy as well as of the people”, as they sought to know how the panel planned to ensure a majority of voters exercised their franchise amid social distancing norms.
These parties also urged the poll panel to review and reassess the situation in consultation with public health experts and other stakeholders.
The elections for the 243-member Assembly will be due in October-November.
The opposition party leaders, including Congress’ Shaktisinh Gohil, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Manoj Kumar Jha, D. Raja of CPI, Dipankar Bhattacharya of CPI-M, Upendra Kushwaha of Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Dipak Jyoti of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Arjun Raj of Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD) and Rajiv Mishra of Vikasheel Insaan Party (VIP), met with Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and submitted a memorandum on the issue.
In a memorandum to the poll panel, the parties said: “The people of Bihar are eagerly waiting for the elections to get rid of a government formed against the mandate as well as for the dismal failure on all fronts….”
It said that there were questions on people’s mind since out of a population of over 13 crore, 7.5 crore are voters.
“How does the Election Commission plan to ensure physical distancing of at least two feet recommended by the WHO and the ICMR and advocated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi?” it said.
The memorandum also pointed out that people need clarity so that a wholesome participation of a majority of voters is not adversely impacted.
“People also expect the commission to ensure and satisfy the people that the entire poll exercise does not become a super spreader (of coronavirus),” it said.
Pointing out at the all-party meeting convened the Election Commission and the ruling parties pushing forth their proposal for election campaigns through digital media and prohibiting traditional campaigning methods, it cited data of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), saying only a little over half the population had mobile phones and only 34 per cent smartphones.
“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 third of the electorate will be left out of the election process,” it said.
The opposition parties said that the ruling parties (BJP and Janata Dal-United) have already started their digital campaigns while the poll panel is yet to “fix the limit of expenditure of virtual political campaign”.
It said that the poll panel will have to deal with issues of whether the elections held in such a manner that fail to ensure free and equal participation of the voters under the pandemic circumstances can be considered free and fair.
Stressing on a level playing field to all political parties and candidates, it said: “To ignore these mechanisms and conduct the elections as a mere formality to be finished and how would be antithetical to the very purpose of the elections and a travesty of the democratic process.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Bihar rose to 21,764 with 197 fatalities and 6,818 active cases.
Earlier this week, Crisis Management Group (CMG) in Bihar headed by Chief Secretary Deepak Kumar had decided to reimpose lockdown restrictions from July 16 until July 31 in 16 districts due to spike in Covid-19 cases.