Election in the times of Omicron: EC puts brakes on rallies as parties go digital


Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra along with the Election Commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey addressing the Observers Briefing Meeting, organised by the Election Commission of India for the General Election to Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo)

A survey by LocalCircles says that 31% people were in favor of postponing the assembly elections, while 41% wanted political rallies banned

Our Bureau
Lucknow/New Delhi

The Election Commission has extended the ban on physical rallies and roadshows till January 22 in states where assembly elections are scheduled in February-March.

The commission had on January 8 banned rallies and roadshows till January 15, when it announced polls to the five states.

Extension of the ban comes amid a surge in Covid cases across the country, as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur prepare to go to polls.

However, parties have been allowed to hold indoor meetings with a maximum of 300 people, or 50% capacity of the venue, whichever lower.

The Commission has also directed parties to adhere to the model code of conduct and Covid protocols during electioneering.

The poll panel directed state and district administrations to ensure compliance of all instructions related to the poll code and to the pandemic control measures. There have been several calls for a ban on rallies and meeting as India witnesses another wave of Covid infections.

Several parties had faced criticism for holding massive rallies amid the pandemic when several states went to polls in April-May last year. A recent survey by digital community-based platform LocalCircles concluded that 31% people were in favor of postponing the assembly elections, while 41% wanted political rallies banned.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka High Court on Friday directed the state government to execute the standard operating procedure (SOP) issued on January 4 in all districts in view of the COVID-19-19 pandemic and added that no rallies, dharnas or any other political gathering shall be permitted in the entire state, till the SOP is in operation.

The High Court of Karnataka today heard PILs seeking directions to the state government not to allow rallies, dharnas and to restrain Mekedatu padayatra organized by Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC). Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi and Justice Suraj Govindaraj heard the matter. Senior counsel Uday Holla appeared for respondent KPCC. Learned counsel informed the bench that the padayatra has been suspended, respecting the Courts observation.

The division bench asked for the decision of the government. On behalf of the government, the Additional advocate General appeared before the Court and made his submission that the government has issued notice to respondent and the government took all steps to ensure that padayatra is not taken out.

While in Uttarakhand, Union Minister of State for Defense and Tourism, Ajay Bhatt, on Monday assured that there will be no connectivity issue during digital rallies in Uttarakhand because Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fully prepared for it.

Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav addresses a press conference over the notice issued by the Lucknow Police to follow COVID-19 protocols, at the party office on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

The MoS further mentioned the connectivity or network issues in Uttarakhand and said that the party will try to connect in small groups where such problem arises.

“We will try to connect with the areas with low connectivity in small groups. If we will not be able to reach any area via digital rallies, then we will find some other way and will surely connect every area of the state,” he said.

In UP, Congress leader and Uttar Pradesh party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi on Saturday said that Congress has cancelled its election rallies due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.

Taking a dig at the BJP, Priyanka Gandhi said that development in a state cannot happen by inaugurating airports before elections. “Unemployed youth, farmers, women, poor are all troubled. Development did not reach up to them.” “In terms of health, Uttar Pradesh is at the very bottom. The situation is worse in terms of women’s health. If we come to power, we will fill all the vacant posts of doctors in the state. Free treatment of up to Rs one lakh will be given to each family. Each health center will have separate doctors for women”, she added.

Meanwhile, BJP leader Amit Malviya has taken a dig at Akhilesh Yadav over his remarks that the Election Commission should provide funds to help strengthen digital platforms of parties so that they can compete with BJP and said that virtual rallies need dedicated workers and organization “which the Samajwadi Party lacks”.

Malviya said Akhilesh Yadav talking of lack of resources appears “ridiculous” and “he is talking like this as his people’s money is being caught (by probe agencies)”. “Digital rallies do not need lot of money, you need dedicated workers but they (Samajwadi Party) do not have organization, nor workers, nor style of work. On March 10, it will be known they do not have workers also,” he said.

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