India, with its enormous population, is the flagbearer of the motto ‘Unity in diversity’. Its manifestation can be seen in one of India’s democratic marvel: elections. 

Today, the Bihar elections completed its second leg of the 3-phase elections as chalked out by the Election Commission (EC). But this time, it is much more different and challenging with coronavirus still hovering over our heads.

The government and the EC did foresee this impending danger on the electoral process way before. Therefore, the safety guidelines were laid out by September 2020 to ensure safety and minimize the contagiosity of the virus.

What Precautionary Measures Have Been Promised?

Earmarked circles to maintain social distancing
  • Mandatory sanitization of the polling premises a day before voting.
  • Polling staff/ Asha workers with sanitizers, soap, water, and thermal scanners will be present at every entry and exit of the rooms/halls/election premises.
  • Earmarked circles will be drawn on the ground to ensure social distancing.
  • Postal ballot services have been extended to PwDs, octogenarians, and above, and people engaged in notified essential services.
  • Voters per booth have been reduced from 1,600 to 1,000 persons.
  • Voting hours have been extended by 1 hour, that is, from 7 AM to 6 PM, except for the Naxal-affected areas.
  • The last hour would mostly be reserved for COVID-19 patients/suspects.

Sunil Arora, Chief Election Commissioner of India, had also assured the availability of around 7 lakh hand sanitizers, 7.6 lakh face shields, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, and 23 lakh pairs of gloves for the Bihar assembly elections while announcing the dates for the polls.

How Different Is The Ground Reality?

After weeks of intense campaigning and efforts put forth by the EC, the results did not seem very optimistic. However, polling booths at places like Nabautpur, Bhabua, Bikram and Arrah were successful in following social distancing for the most part of the day in Phase I.

Reports from Aurangabad revealed how the volunteers did not have enough masks to distribute to the electors. Places like Jamui did exhibit a rather scary situation: a massive violation of COVID-19 norms. There was no social distancing, no masks or gloves on, as was noted by an India Today reporter.

An NDTV media personnel who was ground-reporting from Dehri, Rohtas, pinpointed the lack of awareness in the voters. He documented how the voters littered the election premises with COVID waste, particularly disposable gloves, despite several instructions. 

Also Read: How The SSR Case Circus Is Linked To The Bihar Elections

Reality outside the polling booths

The second phase of the elections was not any better. Except for prime locations like Vaishali and Patna, people were openly flouting the safety guidelines. Polling booths at Raghopur, Sitamarhi and Chapra Parsa did provide distinguished examples of the same. 

How Can Variation In Voter Turnout Possibly Impact The Results?

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the pandemic could dampen the spirit of democracy. The voter turnout was marginally lower this election season compared to 2015, at least in the first phase. Therefore, it is safe to say that the speculations regarding a glaringly low turnout have turned out to be false. 

A closer look at the statistics reveals many complex problems. The polling booths lacked facilities for transgenders, which can result in their low turnout given the added absence of any welfare scheme for them in the party manifestos. 

Out of 4 lakh registered senior citizens and PwD in Phase 1, only 50,000 cast their vote. It is less than even 50 percent of the total. 

This traditional lot was lucky enough to have experienced the administration under both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. But their lower attendance may pose more uncertainty to the electoral results. 

At the same time, Phase 1 and 2 witnessed an unexpected increase in turnout of women and youth, including many of the first-timers, even though the official figures have not arrived yet. 

On one hand, unemployment and the collapse of the present ‘double-engine government’ is a burning issue for the youth. On the other hand, women have been a significant element of Nitish Kumar’s consecutive victories since 2005. 

The third phase of elections is left. The importance of those 78 seats is pretty evident from the Prime Minister’s campaigning and the crowd that was gathered in his rally. In the end, all that we can hope for is a victory for democracy.

Image Credit: Google Images

Sources: Times of India, The Hindu, NDTV

Find the blogger: @soumyaseema

The post is tagged under: bihar elections, #NitishKumar, Narendra Modi, #CoronaVirusChallenge, Election Commission of India, voter turnout, election results, COVID-19 guidelines, women, #youth, transgender, spirit of democracy, polling booth, Polling day, lack of facilities, covid-19 safety measures, failure of government, lalu prasad yadav, tejashwi yadav, unemployment, postal ballot, social distancing, thermal screening, masks, gloves

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