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Can This Pandemic Skew The Results?

The issue of jobs and the cost of living could be “particularly salient” for those aged 25 to 50, and those of low-middle- and middle-income groups for they are the ones who either lost jobs or in danger of losing jobs.

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Bihar traditionally has a low voter turnout even at the best of times. Assuming even fewer people vote this time due to the pandemic, whom will it benefit? It must be assumed that despite the political polarization, there will always be some nonpartisan efforts made to ensure every registered voter can safely participate this month end. What if this assumption is proved wrong? 

How will a low-key campaign or no campaign at all due to the pandemic, work in Bihar which will see elections in two weeks’ time? Do campaigns matter at all in elections? This election is sure to throw up some interesting results. For most parties, election campaigns matter a great deal. Normally, elections see the services of specialist agencies and campaign consultants. Some parties even depute candidates for TV training courses. Parties use glossy literature and advertisements of many forms. Most indulge in outrageous campaign gimmickry. A lot of money is also used to maximize a party’s vote on election day. Though some of it will still be used in these elections, the pandemic might leave its stamp on the proceedings. In normal times, campaign effects deal with local canvassing, advertising campaigns, campaign expenditure and specific campaign events. These are extraordinary times. Even then, haven’t we heard in the past, that the campaigns made no difference to the eventual result and that the fate of the parties sealed weeks, months, or even years before the actual voting day?

The results, to a large extent, can also depend on the level of the ‘polity’. The perspectives must look beyond the short-term interests of political actors, competing for political mandates. At least the major parties must focus, on the unintended side-effects of campaigning with regard to the quality of political culture and democratic governance. The pandemic gives an opportunity to the parties to eschew negative politics. Are they willing to take it?

Despite logistics challenges, it must be seen that there is no compromise on the integrity or legitimacy of the election. They must be held amid a declining caseload as otherwise they could spike an already precarious situation. Precautions must guarantee safe in-person voting, wearing masks and staggering voting hours. Strict social distancing, increased ventilation, and sanitizing surfaces will also greatly help. Voting by mail must seriously be considered. If the entire nation’s teaching-learning can move online, why cannot voting by mail be acceptable?  Even drop boxes where voters can deposit their ballots makes sense. Challenges could be lack of funding, technical glitches, low turnout, and legitimacy concerns. But then, nothing succeeds until tried. 

Will this election see a lower voter turnout? Many might skip voting out of fear, they will contract the virus or out of confusion about where and how to vote. For those inclined not to vote due to disillusionment towards democracies, it could be a complete no. Even poll workers may not show up to work for the elections. The rampant spread of false information and purposefully deceitful information about the coronavirus or its multiple dimensions can also make people stay put. Voter education campaigns must be effective to make a difference. All these could alter the results significantly. 

Divisive campaigns as seen in the past have no place in democracies. Online campaigning in this election must stress on the value and credibility of the candidates whose honesty must come on top, while being a “fair person” and being “hardworking or committed” may follow. Credentials and contributions matter as much as the character of the candidates.

What will count in Bihar then? Only 11.3% of the population of Bihar live in urban areas. Almost 58% are below the age of 25, the highest proportion of young people of any Indian state. Food Processing and dairy are the main-stays others being textiles and leather. Bihar is home to about 100,000 weavers. All these avenues have been severely dented in the past few months. Large scale migration of Biharis back home from other States, due to the pandemic has further stressed the system. Voters will certainly be focused on the COVID-19 crisis, issue of livelihoods and cost of living and some of them concerned about the quality of life and public debate. However, need for a good and efficient government will be of top concern.

The issue of jobs and the cost of living could be “particularly salient” for those aged 25 to 50, and those of low-middle- and middle-income groups for they are the ones who either lost jobs or in danger of losing jobs. For those younger and in the 15 to 25 years group, education could be a real concern. If the parties have to make a difference here, they will need to address the digital divide. Further, the ruling party may have to shake off the incumbency factor. They could be caught between "two pincers", voters with material concerns such as job security and rising inequality, and voters with post-material aspirations such as greater say in governance, gender and minority rights. A rise in crime against women can easily derail any government as we have seen in the past. A small difference will also be made by Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) going solo, unless there are wheels within wheels that we cannot see.  

What strategies can be of help? Creation of new employment opportunities, promise of a decent livelihood, women safety, EMI-easy loans for small businesses, an export promotion zone for textiles are a win-win. With a massive agrarian and dairy markets, can the government be innovative to let Internet of Kamdhenu be the new buzz word? A cow Fitbit could monitor its health, through GPS enabled ‘cow collars’ that track their movements, monitor WBC count, avoid mastitis and help raise milk production. Cloud, AI and data analytics can even do an on the fly monitoring. Several opportunities wait to be explored in cow herding, AI based milk automation, intelligent cow sheds, massively growing grass even in non-arable land, cow urine, and Gobar processing plants. Need for veterinary scientists, doctors and many others create new employment opportunities.

With a renewable energy potential of more than 12.5 GW and yet untapped tourism potential, the State can create millions of jobs. At least the national parties must make a pitch for it. The digital divide could be addressed by driving sanitised mobile vans with PC’s and smart devices and access points into remote locations that lack connectivity, or have no PC’s or smart phones. DTH Channels must quickly be enabled and even cable TV Network empowered to provide education content during certain hours of the day. Are the parties’ game or will they again game the game as in the past? This time round, we need both hope and audacity.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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bihar elections pandemic impact jobs

Dr. S.S. Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present, he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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