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Poll Challenge

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Going by the figures of just a few days ago, it was natural to assume that vaccinations and herd immunity had put India beyond the worst of the Covid pandemic. The effort was to get back to ‘normal’ by resuming every aspect of the economy, as also social life. And, indeed, things went on very well for a considerable period of time, even as infections, hospitalisations and deaths continued to dip. Now, suddenly, Covid is back – how differently and for what period is still to become known.

Considering the claim that one reason for the return is the abandonment of Covid protocols, particularly mask-wearing, there is pressure on governments to strictly enforce curbs that will impact on ‘normal’ life. While some responses have been ham-handed and others designed more to psychologically motivate citizens, it is also a fact that there is greater ability now to much better target the problem.

At the same time, the impending elections in five states pose a major challenge. There has been talk of postponing these, but that solution would be worse than the disease. A better suggestion is to call a halt to public rallies and for political parties to persuade voters through other means. This is very much feasible in today’s digital world. In fact, it could prove a trendsetter even for future normal times, making politics less of a herd activity and a considered individual choice. In the present circumstances, no major party has declared its willingness to have the elections postponed and, if a consensus is arrived at, the ban on rallies could become a reality.

The real worry for parties is the section of society that traditionally votes for the ‘likely winner’. One way of showing ‘winnability’ is through the size of the crowd at the rallies. (This is, of course, done by hook and by crook, providing a lucrative time for daily wagers.) This section is a sizeable section of the swing vote – in Uttarakhand, for instance, it is pretty large. Parties’ hesitancy will come from this. There are, however, better ways today of influencing the voter and, by being forced in present circumstances to adopt these, politicians could open the road to better, less noisy and more effective contests in the future. The Election Commission, which has been one of the most progressive of India’s institutions, will have to further innovate to ensure safe and inclusive polls. Like everything else, democracy too has to stay on its designated path.