Postpone Bihar elections; impossible to maintain social distancing in crowds

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August 28, 2020 6:00 AM

In India, with nearly 70,000 cases being added every day, the country is already third when it comes to global infection levels and tops the list of new infections every day; in the few cities like Delhi and Mumbai that have done sero-surveys, infection levels are several times what the testing data reveals.

Though the EC has announced it plans to hold the elections in November, this is a mistake.

Given the massive economic damage caused by the various lockdowns, it is not surprising the governments want to try and speed up the resumption of normal activity. Yet, there is a level of caution since the chances of an infection resurgence cannot be ruled out. In Europe, infections have jumped up again after the holiday season, and countries like France and Italy that had brought down infections to 20-30 cases a day are now recording over 2,000 cases every day; some countries have even found cases of those who have recovered from Covid-19 getting infected again.

In India, with nearly 70,000 cases being added every day, the country is already third when it comes to global infection levels and tops the list of new infections every day; in the few cities like Delhi and Mumbai that have done sero-surveys, infection levels are several times what the testing data reveals.

It is in this context that the forthcoming Bihar elections need to be viewed. The Election Commission (EC) has come up with some sensible measures on social distancing, the use of face masks, sanitisers and regular monitoring and temperature checks, postal ballots for infected and senior citizens, etc. The guidelines stipulate that the temperature of each voter must be checked; if the person shows any symptoms, she shall be asked to vote only during the last hour. While such plans look good on paper, they are next to impossible to implement.

How will people be asked to maintain social distancing when hundreds are lined up in crowded polling booths, even if that number is to be reduced to 1,000 from the current 1,500 thanks to the addition of around 35,000 more polling booths? Will the EC debar a candidate who has more than five cars—the new stipulation—in her convoy or if there are more than five persons running a door-to-door campaign; there is also the fact that a mostly digital election campaign tilts the scales in favour of parties who are more digitally savvy. There is also the issue of the vicious lies that get propagated a lot more easily on WhatsApp and Facebook, and have less of a chance of getting reported than a candidate doing this in physical rallies.

Though the EC has announced it plans to hold the elections in November, this is a mistake. Certainly, normal activity will have to be resumed at the earliest, but a distinction has to be made between what is vital to the livelihood of people and what is not; that is why, for instance, hotels and gyms have not been allowed to reopen in most states. It cannot be anyone’s case that there will be a lot of damage to the governance of Bihar if the same coalition is allowed to stay on for another six to 12 months, till the pandemic becomes easier to deal with.

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