Political parties in Bihar are not just worried about the size of the rallies and selection of the candidates this assembly election.The bigger challenge, however, is to reach out to as many probable voters as possible amid strict social distancing norms in a state where about 89 percent people live in rural areas.
The voting to be held in three phases is not only India’s first such election amid the coronavirus pandemic, but will also be the biggest global voting exercise to be conducted during the crisis. No wonder then, the political parties are trying best to outdo each other on digital presence.
The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP), for example, is leaving no stone unturned to make sure that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 12 scheduled rallies reach out to a wider audience through digital tools. The party has roped in at least four lakh workers equipped with smartphones and over 10,000 'social media commandos' to ensure a wider audience for the PM, the most prominent star campaigner for the party.
Bihar is going to polls in three phases to elect a new 243-member assembly. Voting will be held on October 28, November 3 and November 7 and the counting on November 10.
The BJP is also relying on the ‘Kamal Konnect’ app which allows to take the NDA achievements in the past regimes to the voters. It is basically a comparison of NDA rule with that of opposition fifteen years ago. The party also said it will be holding meetings in every five villages of a constituency through LED screens and thus holding 100 meetings at a time to ensure social distancing norms are followed.
“People are showing enthusiasm ahead of PM Modi’s rallies. We hope the trust people have placed in the prime minister will benefit us during allies,” said BJP leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who is monitoring preparations for PM rallies in Bihar. Fadnavis is BJP incharge of Bihar polls along with senior leader Bhupendra Yadav. BJP said last week that its digital footprint in the state has reached up to crossed over 1.50 lakh WhatsApp groups, thousands of social media handles apart from the ‘Kamal Konnect’ mobile application.Leading the NDA charge in the state, Nitish Kumar along with the BJP is aiming to retain power.
The ruling coalition is being challenged by the Grand Alliance of the Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD, the Congress and other smaller parties. The BJP is in alliance with the Janata Dal (United). Both the parties have agreed to contest 121 and 122 seats. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Chirag Paswan, which is an alliance with BJP at the centre, is contesting Bihar elections alone.
Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(United) has already launched its digital platform, JDUlive.com for virtual campaigns. The platform, which party leaders said was one-of-its-kind in the country, was launched by Kumar before his first virtual rally on September 7.
“This platform came up with the help of IITians who gave us their time during lockdown. We started with one lakh live viewers and expect it to cross one million digital viewers at a time,”said a leader. Kumar has been addressing both physical and virtual rallies. Unlike popular third party channels, JDUlive.com is the party's own video conferencing platform which supports communications both ways. Rallies apart, JDU leaders also hold meetings using this facility.
RJD, which had opposed holding elections for want of resources, is also in the race. The party’s MLA have created thousands of WhatsApp groups at state, district, block and panchayat levels to reach out to maximum electors before the polls. The aim is to refute Nitish Kumar government’s claim of development work in its last regime.
“The party has 30 different cells and each cell handles different issues, “RJD spokesperson Mrityunjay Tiwari, who heads the IT cell team of the party, told the media in Patna.
The Congress, which is contesting on 70 seats as part of the Grand Alliance is holding its ‘Bihar Kranti Maha Sammelans’ apart from virtual events. Party’s interim president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi are expected to address virtual and physical rallies as the polls draw near. Parties are also spending huge on digital advertisements to reach out to voters. All this is apart from the usual live streaming of rallies on social media and other online platforms.
Official records reveal that Bihar has lowest teledensity which is the number of telephone connections per hundred people. It was 59 in 2019, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) against the national average of 89. The Internet penetration is not good in Bihar too. Against the national average of 54 subscribers per 100 people it was 32 subscribers per 100 people in 2019.
On September 18, nearly a week before Bihar poll dates were announced, Union IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the number of mobile phone users in Bihar has increased to 6.21 crore in August 2020. The number of internet users has increased to 3.93 crore, the minister said.
“There were 4.2 crore mobile phone users in Bihar in 2014-15, which has increased to 6.21 crore in August this year. The number of internet users, meanwhile, was 80 lakh in 2014-15 but it has now increased to 3.93 crore,” Prasad said during a video conference marking the inauguration of seven infrastructure projects in Bihar by PM Narendra Modi.
Home to 10 crore people, Bihar is the third most populous state in the country after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Over 62 percent of the state’s population uses mobile phones, while the internet is used by nearly 40 percent people, according to government statistics.
The IT minister said that all the 8,743 panchayats in Bihar, except a few, had been connected with the high-speed broadband network under BharatNet.Polling will be held at1,06,527 polling booths across 38 districts of Bihar. Bihar has 72 million registered voters, according to the Election Commission of India (ECI).