The Covid-19 has changed the dynamics of almost everything including politics in the world. Today, it poses challenges for all walks of life and also all kinds of institutions. This is true of democracy practitioners, civil liberties and political parties and democracy itself, as Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Bhai Trivedi says!

Now that experts say that we have to learn to live with the virus, how will the political system in India change and will it be for the better? Since the Coronavirus outbreak, most political activities had taken a back seat, as the pandemic became the only focus. There may be fundamental change in the substance of politics and how it will cope with the new normal. Now that it is clear some of the measures like the social distancing, masks, washing hands often, avoiding crowded places and congregating in large numbers even in religious places are likely to continue.

Political parties have already found some new interfaces like the digital platform, virtual meetings etc. They have already moved away from traditional methods of posters, pamphlets, flyers and door-to-door campaign to digital war even in the 2019 polls. Now virtual platforms have replaced actual meetings in most of the parties and in government since the lockdown. So, gone are the days of thumping their chest about the lakhs of people who come to listen to their netas. With the movement restricted, they will have to depend on new methods to connect with the public.

How are the political parties strategizing for the future? They all agree that digital mode is the option. The BJP has become adept in using the digital platform since 2014. Modi had used videoconferencing to address the public in large number and 3D holographic projections during polls. The party has used the new medium to its advantage and has prepared digital files of voters and their mobile numbers etc. that makes it easier to reach out to the voters. The party has data on all the 543 Lok Sabha seats.

In the changed circumstances, the BJP is planning for smaller meetings and digital interaction with the voters. Next summer, state elections are due in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam. Bihar elections are scheduled for November this year. BJP chief J.P. Nadda told this columnist that the party is getting ready to face the new situation. ‘We are already using the digital platform. In view of the pandemic we have to think of new things for campaign. Of course we will hold virtual rallies.”

The Congress Party too is not lagging behind in catching up with the BJP in digital reach. According to the Congress media head Randeep Surjewala the party had a biggest ever-virtual contact of almost 10 crores in one day on the recent ‘Speak Up India’ campaign led by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to raise public support for the people suffering from the lockdown on May 28. “This is indeed a world record,” he claims adding “We have adapted ourselves to the new situation.” The party has involved its leaders, functionaries, AICC office-bearers district and booth level workers numbering around 50 lakhs. The Congress is using the Zoom app for holding virtual press conferences and Rahul Gandhi’s conversations with big economists. He admits that the social media and digital platform will play a big role in the coming polls.

The other parties too agree that the digital interaction will be the future. CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechuri points out that today almost every party has a firm on- line presence. The Left is also reaching out to the people through their cadres and mass organizations. Trinamool Congress leader Dineshbhai Trivedi thinks that the future campaign will be on social media and digital platform. Former External affairs minister Yashwant Sinha notes that “Politically there will be a lot more reliance on digital communication.” Most parties now have political strategists and information technology units, who are responsible for their digital strategy.

The Election Commission announced that the elections to 18 Rajya Sabha seats, deferred due to the coronavirus pandemic, will now be held on June 19. Out of these 18 seats, four each are from Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, three each from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, two from Jharkhand, and one each from Manipur and Meghalaya.

The Election Commission should get ready to meet the new normal. Bihar polls will be the first test. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, admitting it is too early to think about the timing of the Bihar polls, points out that even during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls the Commission had made arrangements for senior citizens above 80, armed forces etc. though postal ballot.

The immediate challenge for the ruling party as well as the opposition and also the regional satraps is to convince the people that they are concerned about their welfare. This is where the good old Gram Panchayats and booth level committees come in. The parties could go back to the basics and use their block and booth committees to spread the message through digital form. India is expected to reach 859 million mobile users by 2022. In short, politics was already moving towards a virtual world and the Covid has only hastened it.

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