(Riya Singh, Intern Journalist) Patna: The Election Commission (EC) is set to come up with guidelines to hold elections for the Bihar assembly soon. This will be the first major election since the pandemic hit India. The EC is planning to allow physical rallies, but with a limited public presence, permit online filing of nomination forms, allow limited door-to-door campaigning and reduce the number of people in each polling booth and counting hall. All these measures are legitimate in the context of the pandemic.

The EC has done well to have extensive deliberations with all stakeholders, and its guidelines will, in all likelihood, also apply to elections next year in states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, and Assam.

The real challenge is reconciling two diametrically opposite objectives. The first is ensuring a free-and-fair political contest, where political leaders can relay their messages and voters cannot only access these messages but also convey their concerns and grievances.

The second is the need to prevent any mass-based activity to keep the spread of the infection under control, and maintain social distancing and follow safety protocols.

The fact that Bihar is under-equipped in terms of health infrastructure and has seen disturbing Covid-19 trends makes this even more urgent. The EC has to find a middle way, reconciling principles of safety as well as equal access and democratic rights. But the responsibility lies equally with both political leaders and citizens to participate in polls with great responsibility.

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