After initially welcoming the Covid protocols announced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in campaigning, political leaders are now developing cold feet on the issue.
The temperature in political circles has fallen with the mercury, while apprehensions are growing.
A sitting MLA, waiting in his car outside the BJP state headquarters, said: “We cannot publicly oppose the ECI’s decision on virtual campaigning but the fact remains that this will not work in semi-urban and rural constituencies. The reality is that even those who have smartphones, use them only to watch movies and web series. My own driver says that he will not recharge his data to watch political events.”
While all parties claim to have a definite presence in the virtual world and exude confidence about campaigning on social media, it is the candidates and aspirants who are worried.
“Now that even cycle rallies have been banned, how do we connect with our voters? Electioneering involves a personal touch where you go and meet voters, seek their support and blessings. You cannot expect to get votes through WhatsApp message and Facebook,” said a Samajwadi Party (SP) legislator.
He said that there was insufficient time for door-to-door campaign too.
“My constituency goes to polls in the first phase and I cannot cover the entire constituency in this manner. People want to meet their candidates and virtual rallies by leaders are not enough.”
Several candidates are now apprehensive that if the curbs continue beyond January 15, it could impact voter turnout.
A BSP candidate from Kanpur said that since there was no physical campaigning, voters cannot be mobilised only through the social media.
“We know how difficult it is to get voters-especially those from educated class-to come out and vote on the polling day. Most people prefer to relax at home since it is a holiday,” he said.
Political analysts, on the other, are still unsure about the impact that virtual campaigning will have on voter turnout.
Senior journalist R.K. Singh said: “We still do not know how virtual campaigning will impact voter turnout. There are still people even in urban areas who are not active on the social media. The virtual campaign will have an impact on young voters but there is doubt about the elderly ones who may not be enthused enough to come out and vote.”
An election official, however, said that virtual campaigning will lead to a rise in voter turnout because voters in the state are “mature and smart”.