VIRTUAL: The ban on physical campaigning is bound to be extended in Goa beyond January 15 with CM Pramod Sawant deliberately entertaining the sharp hike in the positivity rate of covid-19.
By Rajan Narayan
BJP Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seems to be deliberately refusing to impose any curbs so that he and his government may take maximum advantage of their digital expertise in manipulating elections!
THE forthcoming elections to the Legislative Assembly of Goa, being held on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2022 will be a virtual poll. With the number of new Covid-19 cases shooting up to 2,000 on Sunday, January 9 the positivity rate is as high as 25%. Which means that one in four Goans tested for covid-19 are positive. A large number of the positive cases are of the new variant Omicron. The Election Commission while announcing the schedule for the polls to the five states of Goa, Uttarkhand Manipur, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh has banned all rallies and public meetings till January 15, out of fear of spreading Covid-19. This is definitely going to be extended in Goa till the January 28 which is the last date for filling nominations or even Valentine’s Day February 14 which is the actual date of polling.
It would appear that Pramod Sawant and the BJP in Goa is deliberately encouraging tourism without any curbs so that the ban on physical campaigning will be extended right up to the polling date. This is because it is the BJP and to a significant extend the TMC which will be the main beneficiaries of a virtual poll.
INDEED, given the pace at which the Covid-19 epidemic is spreading, the Election Commission should have postponed the assembly elections. No practical and fair assembly election can be held in any state, least of all Goa, under the dark shadow of Omicron. Virtual campaigning has no credibility given the fact that thanks to Prashant Kishor, the BJP have become masters at manipulating digital media. There is a report on how the BJP has developed an App specifically to target the minority communities, so that they can polarise voters on communal lines.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Swami Yogi Aditiyanath has admitted to the BJP’s strategy, when he declared on Sunday, January 9, that the BJP expects all the 80% Hindu votes in the state. Implying that they are not expecting or interested in the 20% minority Muslim votes.
The problem with digital campaigning is that the only section of the population in Goa, who are familiar and used to digital media, are young people below 18 who are not eligible to vote. I can vouch for the fact from personal experience that the over 50 years old population of the state are not very digitally literate! Even in the case of the age group 18-50 years, the overwhelming majority of the Goan population do not have access to the digital campaigns of the political parties.
THIS is not only because over 70% of the voters may not have smart phones, but connectivity is so poor. We have bitter experience of this from the problems our children are facing with e-learning. Like the children and the teachers, the voters may have to climb up trees to access the campaigns of the political parties.
Comparatively, as the Samajwadi party chief in UP Akhilesh Yadav has pointed out, the ban on physical campaigning gives an advantage to the BJP. This is because over the last ten years the BJP has perfected the art of using digital media not only to promote themselves but to spread cooked up false messages against their rivals on social media.
Being the ruling party the BJP may even be able to use the Pegasus software to plant incriminating and defamatory posts on the smartphones of their rivals. Prashant Kishor is to be blamed because it is he who set up the digital media infrastructure of the BJP in his I-PAC marketing of the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections.
Prashant Kishor may have broken off with the BJP. Prashant Kishor may have realized that he has created a monster. Prashant and his I-PAC has decided to align with the TMC. Prashant is even promoting Mamata-didi as the alternative candidate for the prime minister’s post in the 2024 Parliamentary elections.
The TMC is the only party which has been able to inflict a humiliating defeat on the BJP since they captured power in 2014. The only other party or combine which has managed to dislodge the BJP is the Shiv Sena with the help of the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra. Which is why the TMC in-charge of the Goa election campaign Mahua Moitra, has belatedly declared that they are open to an alliance with the Indian National Congress to defeat the BJP. Coincidently, the Congress party in-charge, PC Chidambaram, has also welcomed support from the TMC to defeat the BJP. Chidambaram has perhaps realised that in an overwhelmingly virtual campaign the Congress will need the support of the digitally savvy I-PAC and TMC.
Perhaps the only way to defeat the BJP is for all Opposition parties including the Congress, Goa Forward, MGP and the NCP coming together to take on the BJP in the elections scheduled for Valentine’s Day.
THE Congress has virtually admitted that it has little expertise in digital marketing. The Congress has been relying entirely on press conferences and rallies for campaigning in Goa. All the other parties including the BJP and the AAP are digitally smarter than the Congress and have been advertising heavily on the social media. The TMC, to which Prashant has now switched over to, is the expert on digital marketing. Every day there are more than half-a-dozen What’sApp reports of who has joined the Goa Trinamool Congress. There are details of press conferences held not only by their senior leaders but even junior leaders. They send comments on the claims of the BJP and the Congress!
The social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter is dominated by the TMC. The TMC also has a monopoly on print media advertising as it seems to have permanently booked prime advertising space above the masthead in all daily newspapers in Goa. With the exception of the Goan Observer because we insisted that we would only accept payments by cheques and will not do any money laundering for them.
If the intensity of the Covid-19 pandemic continues at the present rate in Goa, it will peak around Valentine’s Day. Goans will not be able to go to the polling booth let alone celebrate Valentine’s Day (or Makar Sankranti which also falls on the same day). As my colleague pointed out since polling days are normally dry days, this Valentine’s Day you will not even able to toast your beloved with her favourite wine or champagne. Unless of course you go to the office or residents of politicians or approach the bar through the back door where politicians will be offering free booze to candidates.
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 doubles every day. Already the positivity rate in Goa touched 24.76% on Sunday, January 9. If this trend continues it will go up to 75%. Even more worrying is the fact that so far five people have died since the third wave started. The super-specialty ward block at the Goa Medical College & Hospital, which is the only Covid-19 hospital functioning currently, is filling up. Which shows that the severity of the third wave is also rising. The primary reason why the Covid-19 positivity is going up so steeply is because Goa is the only state which had no curbs on entry into the state over the Christman/New Year season. Goa is the only state which did not impose any night curfews. Goa is the only state where extravagant night clubs and casinos continued to stay alive and awake in celebration mode.
Forget about virtual campaigning. Candidates may not get infected because the Election Commission has given them the option of filing their nominations online. Unfortunately, there is no similar provision for the 11 lakh plus voters in Goa to cast their votes online. Even with the limit of 1,200 voters per polling booth, there will still be a rush at the polling booths. There is no guarantee that the one meter physical distance will be maintained. There is no guarantee that every voter will wear a mask. The electoral officials, including those who in charge of the voting centres, are being given a fresh dose of Covaxin to protect themselves infected voters!
Unfortunately, no fresh boosters are being offered to voters who want to exercise the right of franchise. The most dangerous part of the fast approaching Assembly elections is that voters have a very high chance of picking up any of the Covid-19 variant infections even if they have taken both doses of vaccination. While senior citizens may have completed both their doses there are many young people who have yet to take their second dose. No attempt is being made to expedite the second dose so that every voter will be fully vaccinated before voting day. But even this is not a guarantee because the Omicron coronavirus is much smarter, and the majority of those who have been infected in the third wave are those who have taken both doses of vaccination.
BJP KARYAKARTA ONLY!
THE moral of the story is that you cannot have elections along with covid-19. The elections should be cancelled in any part of the country where the positivity rate is more than 10%. And certainly in Goa where the positivity rate may exceed 50% even by the last date for nomination which is January 28. The theory is that the new variant Omicron eases off as rapidly as it is quickly contagious. The expectation is that the third wave will peak by end-January and start falling rapidly by polling day which in Goa is on February 14.
This might happen in other states like Manipur, Uttarkhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh which are also going to the polls along with Goa. But these states have taken extraordinary precautions to prevent the spread of the epidemic. To the contrary in Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant seems to be determined to spread the epidemic so that nobody will dare to go out to the polling booth to vote — except their BJP karyakarta!