It is not justified to make the Election Commission’s reliance on electronic and digital campaigns optionless. With many remote areas still without proper access to electricity and internet, how will the marginalized voters of such places have enough data to listen to the election speeches of each party leader? Can such questions be ignored under the guise of the threat of Corona?
Recently, the Election Commission, while declaring the schedule of assembly elections of five states, banned the traditional campaigning through rallies etc., so that print, electronic, digital and social etc. Only media forms remained, so many people remembered May 1982.
Then the Election Commission arbitrarily changed the voting process to use electronic voting machines instead of ballot papers in fifty out of 84 booths in the Paravoor assembly constituency of Kerala’s Ernakulam district.
Till then there was no provision for any such change in the Representation of the People Act of 1551 and the Election Act of 1961. Perhaps that is why the Election Commission called this change a trial. But his experience after that was not good.
In the very close contest held in the said election, Congress candidate AC Jose, who had also been the Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly, lost by a margin of minor votes, then went to the High Court, where he raised the question in his petition whether the representation and election related matters by the Parliament. Without making provision for the use of electronic voting machines by amending the laws, the Election Commission has the right to conduct voting by machines instead of ballot paper on its behalf?
Even though the High Court rejected his petition, he did not give up. Ultimately, the Supreme Court accepted his point of view and ruled that the Election Commission has the right to conduct elections through due process, not to change them. The court ordered re-polling with ballot papers in 50 booths where the commission had conducted voting by machines, which, if complied with, got Jose 2,000 more votes.
After this decision of the court, the Election Commission had to stop the use of electronic voting machines. Later, when Parliament cleared the way for their use by amending the relevant law, they started being used again. Recently, when questions were raised about the reliability of these machines, the Election Commission also started the use of Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines.
Now it is a matter of analysis of the experts of the law whether to deprive parties and candidates from traditional campaigning and rely on electronic or digital means to change the election process in the sense that the Supreme Court has done it without the permission of Parliament. The use of electronic voting machines in place of ballot papers by the Election Commission was held to be a change of this process.
But the way many small parties and independent candidates feel uncomfortable and weak in electronic and digital campaigning, while the resources and money-rich parties and candidates are giddy, it is the umpire to give equal opportunity to all the rivals in the competition and treat everyone equally. There seems to be a serious violation of the principle of conduct affecting the freedom and fairness of elections.
It is not without reason that ever since the Election Commission has left the options of digital campaigning through media and virtual rallies before the parties and candidates to reach the voters, questions are being raised whether there is a competition against this decision. Will it have the same effect on all sides? If not, in whose account will its profit go?
According to experts, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Center and in Uttar Pradesh is the richest and ahead of its rival parties in getting election donations, but is also gaining an edge on electronic and digital platforms.
Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav probably says in view of this, ‘We cannot put up flags, banners, posters and hoardings. Cannot hold public meetings and road shows. The media cannot show that to the opposition. So is the election commission making arrangements to suit the government party, which is panicked by the crowd gathering at the meetings of SP supremo Akhilesh Yadav?’
On the other hand, experts are also asking whether the Election Commission is not aware of this fact or has prepared the way for the BJP to gain an edge through a well-thought-out strategy, so that its people, as well as the troll army, occupy the digital platforms. , it can come in handy.
Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav has also raised the question that the parties which do not have the resources, how will they conduct virtual rallies and how will they get space in the race for electronic or digital campaigning? Will the Election Commission provide them funds and resources for this?
His question is also relevant in the sense that all social media apps like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are also in the hands of the BJP or its power. But according to the largest opposition party Congress, then the matter is not only this and it is limited to the victory and defeat of the elections.
Its former president Rahul Gandhi recently wrote in a tweet that seeing the young age of the accused in the Bully by App case, the whole country was asking where does so much hatred come from? Actually BJP has set up many digital factories of hatred.
It is a matter of relief that now BJP’s own are also getting vocal against it. A former female worker of its IT cell says that the app called Tech Fog is used by her to harass her critics and divert public perceptions.
Similar allegations have been made against BJP on many other social media platforms as well. It is also reported that it has trained 8,000 workers for digital promotion and also has enough resources to meet the expenses of its huge IT army.
It is clear that the Election Commission’s reliance on electronic and digital campaigning is not justified anywhere. It is okay that young leaders and voters have no problem with digital means of campaigning, but many old leaders and voters are still untouched by them. Or feel uncomfortable about them.
Electricity and internet are still yet to reach in many remote areas, which is very important for the use of these mediums. In Digital India, there are more people with Shining India and Feel Good right now.
In such a situation, how will the parties relying on electronic or digital campaigning, reach their point of view to the elderly voters? Even if they do, how will they include the voices of their fellow leaders? If you are not able to participate, will the youth leaders and young voters decide victory and defeat in these elections?
Why would Dalit and marginalized voters from remote villages and cities have enough data to listen to election speeches of leaders of each party? Can all these questions be ignored under the guise of the threat of Corona?
If there is a danger, isn’t it better that the Election Commission, before putting the whole cushion on electronic or digital campaigning, confronts itself with the question of how seriously this will affect free and fair elections?
To avoid this effect, why can’t all the parties and candidates who have been deprived of traditional campaigning be provided with a new common digital platform of campaigning, so that their conveniences are homogeneous?
(The author is a senior journalist.)
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Categories: India, Politics, Special