‘Free and fair elections’: Election Commission , Bihar opposition discuss poll concerns
The Election Commission (EC) on Friday held a meeting with opposition parties from Bihar, after the parties filed a representation with the Commission on holding ‘free and fair elections’ in the state.
The Bihar Assembly lapses in November and elections in the state will be the first to be held since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country.
Congress’ Shaktisinh Gohil, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Jha, Communist Party of India’s D Raja, CPI(Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury, Vikasheel Insaan Party’s Rajiv Mishra, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, CPI(Marxist-Leninist) and Hindustani Awam Morcha are signatories to the letter sent and among those who attended the video conference meeting with Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, and election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra.
The parties also asked the poll body to consider scrapping the amendment made to the Representation of People Act, 1951, which allows those aged 65-years to use the postal ballot to cast their vote. The EC had on Thursday decided not to notify the amendment for the Bihar polls.
Leaders present at the meeting told Hindustan Times that while they appreciated the EC’s decision to not notify it, the amendment itself was problematic.
“More consultations needed to be held before the amendment was made,” a leader present at the meeting said. “The EC should scrap the amendment altogether.”
Another leader added that the amendment, notified by the law ministry last month, needed to be withdrawn completely. HT had on Thursday reported that while the amendment was not notified for Bihar elections, it can be invoked by the EC in later elections.
A second leader present at the meeting added that the EC will have to take a call on whether the situation in Bihar is ‘normal’ or not.
“If the situation is normal, then the modes of campaigning should also be the usual,” the leader said. “Virtual rallies have happened without imposing a ceiling on the expenditure.”
According to a statement issued by the EC on Friday, political parties have until July 31 to give their views and suggestions for campaigning, before final guidelines are issued.
The parties have also recommended that four booths be set up, with 250 electors per booth in each polling station to reduce the risk of virus transmission. The Commission had decided to reduce the number of voters in each booth from 1,600 to 1,000 per booth in the wake of the pandemic.
Leaders present at the meeting said the Commission assured them they would address all their apprehensions, and that they are monitoring the situation on a daily basis. An EC spokesperson told Hindustan Times that any developments, as and when they took place, will be conveyed to all.
In their representation, the parties have cited the “alarming exponential surge” in Covid-19 cases across the length and breadth of the state, and the lockdowns that are likely to follow. The letter further underlined the fear among the electorate and the parties that the “poll exercise does not become a super spreader event”.
The parties also claimed the decision to allow virtual rallies without a financial ceiling would help the ruling parties — the JD(U)-BJP-LJP alliance.
“In the All Party Meeting convened recently by the Chief Election Commissioner, the ruling parties pushed their proposal regarding virtual election campaigns through digital media and prohibiting traditional election campaign methods,” the parties wrote in their letter.
“According to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) only a little over half the population has a mobile phone. Only 34 percent have a smartphone. It will be a travesty of unpardonable proportion to officially legitimize 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. Uncaring about this the parties in power have kick started their virtual blitzkrieg while the Election Commission is yet to fix the limit of expenditure of this virtual political campaign,” it added.
The parties also asked how the EC will ensure distancing in a state with a population of 130 million and 75 million eligible voters.