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Elections during pandemic: Bihar leads the way

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COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest story of the year and India has seen a fightback against the disease under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under such circumstances, conducting free and fair elections was unprecedented in several ways.

Nitish Kumar

The challenges of conducting elections in a populous country like India are manifold. However, as the pandemic continues to persist, putting elections, the hallmark of a vibrant democracy, on hold is detrimental for the ruling government.

After initial doubts, the election commission took cue from the successful experiences of many countries, especially South Korea, which conducted its national elections in the midst of the pandemic.

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Nearly, 34 countries have conducted elections to their national assembly or presidential post while being engaged in the battle against the novel coronavirus.

And when the government decided to hold elections, it was a leaf of faith for everyone. Fristly, there was apprehension whether the polls would be possible at all. Later, several political parties clamoured for postponing the elections.

Undettered, ECI issued COVID guidelines in August for the Bihar assembly pollsDoor-to-door campaign wa subject to restrictions. Only five, including the candidate but excluding the security personnel, were allowed for door-to-door campaigning.

Besides the usual norms related to sanitising and social distancing, these guidelines included a reduction in the limit of electors per polling booth to 1,000, from the current 1,500, in order to prevent overcrowding.

The consequent addition of nearly 40,000 extra polling stations meant as many additional EVMs. To avoid crowding at the counting centres, the counting tables were reduced to seven per hall from 14.

Convoys of vehicles were to be broken after every five vehicles, instead of 10. The number of participants at the public meetings were restricted. Online facilities were provided for nominations, filing of affidavits and security deposits.

In order to facilitate COVID-19 patients or those suspected of having the infection, the commission had extended the polling duration by an hour.

And in the end, a satisfactory voter turnout was a ahot in arms for the government and the election commission.

Bihar recorded 57.05 per cent turnout in the assembly elections this time, marginally higher than that of 2015 despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The voter turnout in the elections held in 2015 was 56.66 per cent.

India also witnessed some Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections on temporary hold, in many states. However, those elections involved limited participants and so was easier to conduct during the ensuing health crisis.

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