Breaching EC’s social distancing norms is the new cool for Bihar elections

Bihar Assembly elections is going to be held amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and the campaigning guidelines by the Election Commission of India (ECI) is only being observed in the breach.

The expected rules in the rallies include very obvious requirements, i.e. social distancing of at least six feet, a gathering of not more than 200 people, etc. At a Janata Dal-United (JDU) meeting held in Chapra by candidate Chandrika Rai (ex-father-in-law of Tej Pratap Yadav), the rally stage collapsed because of too many people on it. In Gaya, an FIR was launched by the local administration against the organizers of an event where the BJP national president J.P. Nadda was present for violating social distancing norms. A mini-road show was also taken out by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leaders Tejashwi and Tej Pratap Yadav while filing their nominations, violating norms, and made it seem that social distancing violation has become a thing of equal opportunity infraction.

Some political party leaders have to say that this is happening because elections have been a thing of display for a very long time. It is not only about an event on the polling day but it stretches to the campaigns as well. While filing nominations and in public rallies, big shows of strength and a large number of crowds is considered equally important. The fact that the EC laid down rules to only allow a handful of people in these events is coming across as a cultural shock to the leaders.

“The Election Commission has set proper guidelines, although yes, they are being observed more in the breach as we as a society experience election as a festival with high participation. Fortunately for Bihar, COVID-19 incidence is low with the highest recovery rate and second-highest level of testing in the country. Perhaps it has given people some sort of signal to move ahead with activities, but that cannot be allowed, we need to improve,” said Devendra Fadnavis, the BJP Prabhari for Bihar polls, when he spoke to The Hindu during a sit-down interview.

A new issue of power and authority has risen, with all the other existing problems. Dhiraj Kushwaha, the spokesperson for the Upendra Kukshwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), told The Hindu that his party was finding it difficult reserving grounds designated for public meetings in various districts as they had been booked by the ruling NDA. “We are quite worried as this makes it difficult for us to hold slightly big meetings within EC rules. The ruling combine has managed to book all the space,” he said.

On October 23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to address his first rallies in the polls and is going to be a mix of the real and the virtual. BJP sources said that all will be done within the EC’s rules.

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Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a student at the Centre for Chinese and South-east Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He also works with Hasratein- a Delhi based queer collective. The current area of his academic interest lies in the study of the Chinese language and society.