In the situation where countries like France, Britain and Europe have announced to reimpose Lockdown to control the rapid case of Coronavirus, India is into the Election fever.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission has assured that the full process of election will be safe and all preventive measures are being followed. But being in the field and observing my mind says- “Is social distancing a Joke in Bihar Assembly Elections 2020”?
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My Trip to Bihar for the Ground reality check
The first phase of Bihar Assembly elections was on 28th October 2020. One of the most hyped constituencies in the first phase was Rohtas district (Mainly Sasaram and Dehri Vidhan sabha Kshetra ).
To cover the ground report, I went to Dehri Vidhan Sabha Kshetra and talked to a few locals. To understand the whole process of election in this pandemic situation, I decided to cover those assigned in election duties.
On 26th October, all the Presiding Officers, Polling Officers ( P1, P2 and P3 ) were called to join the duty and collect the necessary materials for the elections ( not the EVM’s I must clear ).
I visited the venue – Dehri Uchcha Vidyalaya, and to my surprise, a huge crowd was assembled there without any mask, gloves or sanitizer. A few were seated in the rooms while many were made to sit in a tent in the ground.
Forget the “2 gaj ki doori” by the people; the seating arrangements had plastic chairs arranged side by side adjoining every table. Although everyone was instructed to be present in the morning, the goods were not handed to the Presiding Officers even at 6 P.M.
Chaos while distributing Election Forms, Medical Kits and other essential stuff
This time due to an increase in the number of booths, a considerable number of ladies were allotted the election duties. But nothing was done for their comfort.
It was full of mismanagements, and officials had no clue how to cater to the crowd. Forget Men or Women; the sight was an utter mishap. People were shouting, standing in the one – another’s shoulder to receive their official papers and goods.
Social distancing seemed like a joke, and there was no arrangement to maintain that either. The Election Commissions claim to conduct the election seemed like a fairy tale to me. Aren’t the booth officials ( PS, P1, P2, and P3) a part of the Election process?
If there was anyone person infected with Coronavirus, everyone standing in that place must have been infected too.
The whole situation shook my head completely, and I was stunned to see the entire case. It was past 9 P.M. when somehow ( after screaming and fighting ), those officials were successful in collecting the essentials.
Local influence and Local drag in this election process
Unlike other media houses, my concern was not to cover who is about to attain power; instead, I wanted to explore the truth and awareness about Coronavirus among the rural and locals.
In search of the answers I visited a few places, and the reports are like below case studies-
1.) Sasaram town
Only a few people seem even to have masks on their face. Almost everyone was roaming freely without any protection or social distancing.
The markets seemed like regular days.
2.) Amra Talab
It is like a “Haat Bazaar” for the people of nearby villages. Since the full crowd is mostly rural, there was no knowledge about Coronavirus still being present. People are more than sure that it is over, and life is everyday now.
Same like above two. Public gatherings were typical, and no such things as social distancing could be noticed in any form.
People have hardly any interest in talking about the pandemic. The current election is the burning topic, and people can seem to debate for their favourite candidate.
It is one of the most educated and the most prominent financial hubs for nearby places. Situated beside Sone River, it is one of the biggest Sand depositories in Bihar.
So, somehow my expectations were high for this place too for the Coronavirus among the people. But here again, I didn’t see even a single person wearing a mask or carrying a sanitizer.
While talking to the locals, people had their version of explanations to why they don’t wear a mask –
a.) If there was Coronavirus, why would the government ( they wanted to mention Election Commission ) conduct elections in such a pandemic situation?
b.) Why would all the political parties run physical election campaigns and carry door to door voter visits?
c.) Why would the ruling party, Prime Minister, Opposition party, etc., come and address the crowd of thousands and lakhs.
The questions seemed genuine, and I was speechless too.
28th October 2020- The Day of Election
To analyze the voting and election, I visited many booths in Sasaram, Karakat and Dehri. I must admit that inside the booths, the situation seemed controlled. People were provided with facilities to sanitize their hands and a pair of gloves to vote if anyone asked.
Proper circles were made for the people to stand in the queue. Although I still rarely saw people wearing masks. Elections were peaceful.
Submitting of EVM’s at the Sasaram Bazar Samiti
Post elections all the EVM’s were to be submitted at Sasaram Bazar Samiti. There was a 5 km long JAM at the venue. Somehow I managed to reach the EVM Machine depositing centre.
The view was horrifying. It was a Jam-Packed area of over thousands of people shouting, fighting, screaming and scuffling to submit their EVM’s.
How can one even imagine surviving that utter chaos even if we don’t think of Coronavirus Spread? It was not even in the picture and mind of anyone present there.
The situation was so horrendous that I didn’t even dare to step inside the tent house and ask for anyone’s feedback about the election process.
The situation was the same for the whole night till 8 A.M. when the crowd decreased to a more considerable extent. Nothing was done to maintain the crowd decorum by the administration or Election Commission.
While travelling and covering the whole first phase election process, there are a few serious questions which struck me again and again-
- Did the Election Commission survey well about the situation and what are the crowd sentiments in the election days?
- Is the election process on for the voters and their safety?
- Around 6.5 lakhs of polling officials have been assigned election duty out of which 4.5 lakhs are male 2 lakhs (approx.) are females. So, isn’t their safety too a concern at all.
- What if people involved in such an election process get to suffer from Corona due to this mismanagement. Who should be charged for their sufferings?
- How come the election commission is unable to see the enormous crowd for political rallies/public assemblies and chaos at the distribution and deposit centres.
I must say that it’s the fate and immunity of People and officials of Bihar that in this situation also they can perform their duties.
Voting is a must, and one must fulfil this. But shouldn’t this election have been delayed for 6 months or a year where a governor could have taken charge of the state?
There are dozens of questions, but no answers. How these events turn out for the coming days and months and are we welcoming Complete reLockdown like other countries- We just have to wait and see!