World’s biggest elections during pandemic

The Election Commission (EC) has announced dates for the Bihar election, the first major one to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be held in three phases — October 28, November 3 and November 7. This assembly polls will be one of the biggest elections globally to be held during prevailing COVID-19 situation. India's Corona cases crossed 59 lakh on Saturday.
However, over 7.29 crore voters will cast their votes across 243 Assembly constituencies of Bihar, where the term of the Assembly will end on November 29. In the first phase, 71 Assembly seats will go to polls, spread across 16 districts. According to the Election Commission, most of the Left Wing Extremism-affected districts come under this phase.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of the election campaign. The more important question, though, is whether the pandemic will influence voting decisions at the polling booth. The impact of the nationwide and subsequent state imposed lockdowns, migrant exodus, disruption in Bihar’s remittance economy and overall mismanagement of COVID-19 will worry the governing JD (U)-BJP-LJP combine. Still India’s most backward state on many parameters, fresh ideas and new leaders are sorely needed for Bhiha. Chirag Paswan has attempted to capture this mood by boldly attacking Nitish Kumar.
COVID-19 has brought into stark relief the many problems that the state faces. One is that of the huge reverse flow of migrant labour, leading to a spike in COVID-19 cases and heightened unemployment. The state’s health care system has been stretched thin. However, these problems are not unique to Bihar. These issues should serve as easy pickings for any opposition. Neither the Opposition nor the ruling coalition seems to have understood the extent of frustration and anger over job losses, agrarian distress, and spiraling cases of COVID-19. It will be interesting to see whether these issues take precedence over the traditional caste dynamics that have driven election results in the state so far.
Given the COVID-19 situation in the state, the Election Commission has made arrangements for 7 lakh hand sanitisers, 46 lakh masks, 6 lakh PPE kits, 6.7 lakh face shields and 23 lakh pairs of hand gloves have been arranged for Bihar polls. There will be nearly 1 lakh polling booths in Bihar, while there were only 65 thousand polling booths during the 2015 election.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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