While Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav, seen as the main challenger pitted against the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, had pleaded when the Election Commission had first announced the ban that his organisation did not have the digital wherewithal to campaign online, the commission today extended the proscription on physical poll rallies and roadshows ahead of the five assembly elections scheduled next month till 31 January.
The commission had imposed the ban earlier this month on account of a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country. Yadav had said on 8 January that if the commission leaned in favour of a virtual campaign for political parties in the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, it should also make it a level-playing field for all the political parties.
At a press conference in Lucknow hours before the commission declared the poll schedule in New Delhi on 8 January, Yadav had said, “The Election Commission should give some funds to political parties so that they (the political parties) create a step-up, infrastructure because we cannot compete with the BJP infrastructure. So we appeal that the commission should get the political parties some funds from the government so that in the democratic set up all political parties who do not have strong set up like BJP’s should be able to compete”.
Akhilesh Yadav’s request to the election commission had come in response to a question on the SP’s preparedness to run a digital campaign if the poll panel backs the suggestion that political parties should hold a virtual campaign.
The extension of the period of the ban today comes after the commission held virtual meetings with representatives of the Union Ministry of Health, the chief electoral officers of the five poll-bound states and others to review its decision.
However, the commission announced some relaxation for political parties on Saturday. Some of the salient points under the relaxed guidelines are:
- Public meetings of political parties or contesting candidates in Phase I of the elections has been permitted from 28 January onwards. These must be held in designated open spaces with a maximum of 500 people or 50% of the capacity of the ground.
- Public meetings of political parties or contesting candidates in Phase II of the elections has been permitted from 1 February onwards. These must be held in designated open spaces with a maximum of 500 people or 50% of the capacity of the ground.
- For door-to-door campaigns, the maximum number of people has been increased from five to 10.
- Video vans for publicity have been permitted at designated open spaces, on the condition that Covid norms are followed.
Previously, when the commission had extended the ban on physical rallies till 22 January, it had allowed political parties to hold indoor meetings with a maximum of 300 people or 50% of the capacity of the hall.
In a stern message, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra had said the poll body will take action against officials who fail to act against violations. The Chief Secretary or District Magistrate will be personally responsible for ensuring that all Covid-related protocols are followed, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) said.
Voting for the assembly elections in the five states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will be held between 10 February and 7 March. The election in the five states will be completed in seven phases.
The votes will be counted on 10 March.