COVID-19 Pushing Electioneering Toward Digital Campaigning
With many politicians getting infected by the Novel Coronavirus in the run-up to the assembly elections of 2021 in Assam, and with cases of infection spiraling every passing day, the realization is dawning among politicians that it cannot be business as usual when it comes to election campaigns.
The list is getting longer with more than seven MLAs of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and many from Congress including former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi being diagnosed with COVID-19. The latest to join the list is Santanu Bharali, legal adviser to Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
Assam has been ranked 7th in the country when it comes to the cases related to the Covid-19 infection and the numbers are increasing every day. Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has warned that the number could double very soon.
Clearly, in an election season, it has left politicians wondering on how to reach out to people in a pandemic situation.
Elections are barely seven months away in Assam, but the political temperature has already started rising.
However, the rising cases of Covid-19 among politicians have put a brake on them and now parties are re-strategizing their campaign plans.
“It is really worrying that cases among politicians are rising. Clearly it sends a signal that physical contacts have to be lessened. In an election year doing this is a difficult proposition but we have no option and now have to look for alternatives,” a senior state BJP leader said.
He added that digital campaigns can go on to a certain extent and is limited to middle class sections, but to reach out to the lower strata of society physical presence among them is must.
But Covid-19 is pushing us to quickly look for alternative ways of mobilization.
“Does this mean a new kind of politics is in the offing? We don’t know but have to find out one soon,” said a Congress leader who said the party is already scouting for an alternative model.
But this scenario of pandemic has put the new entrants in politics and the smaller parties who don’t have enough funds to move into digital election campaign mode into spot of a bother.
“In this pandemic situation we put ourselves at risk by going in the midst of the people. But we are left with no option. The bigger parties have their funders,” a leader said.
What is apparent so far is that Covid-19 is further encroaching upon some key political trends. The pandemic era has witnessed a heightened degree of social polarization, centralization of power and emaciation or atrophy of accountability institutions.
Similarly, the pandemic is helping to consolidate previously apparent trends in political mobilization. Since 2014, there was a pretty significant shift towards digital campaigning, micro-targeting and online mobilization, be it on Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp.
The pandemic will push all parties further in the direction.
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