‘Election Rallies Were Like Festivals; Digital Meets Are No Fun’

Pradeep Bali from Bagpat (UP) says rural voters used to make preparation in advance to attend a political rally but times are changing in a digital world

Before Covid struck Uttar Pradesh, election rallies used to be like community festivals. People would get excited to know about a political public meeting in their vicinity; preparations of logistics, groupings will begin a few days in advance. Excitement would be in the air. But after the Election Commission banned public rallies due to Corona in this election, the punch is gone. Virtual rallies (where a small gathering listens to the leaders before a TV screen) hardly carries the same thrill.

Going to a rally was an event. You selected your best outfit, ensured your seat in the bus, or the vehicles to the rally-bound spot and arranged for a flag, headgear or stole matching with the party you supported… There would be a competition of sorts amongst the participants to stand out.

Virtual rallies miss out on that. The gatherings are smaller, there is little cheering and although some people say this is the future of political rallies, I believe it will take many years when a digital public meeting can connect with the masses, at least in Uttar Pradesh or India.

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Take, for example, the virtual rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh) a day before. Several LED TV screens were placed in several vantage points for the participants but the telecast often got disrupted. National netas were at the mercy of a service provider for their broadcast. At some places, people were looking at a blank screen, merely listening to the speech via speakers.

I will also let out a secret here. Quite often, local organisers paid a small amount to the participants from various villages to reach the venue. Now, they set up screens at vantage points close to villages in a constituency.

Bali (inset) says the future belongs to online addresses

At times when two big political opponents held public addresses in close proximity, their rivalry required arranging larger crowds. Many villagers benefited from it as they were given a conveyance or convenience payment to attend the meeting. The compensation could be from ₹200 to ₹500. Virtual rallies took it away.

Nonetheless, our youngsters say virtual rallies are the future as we go towards a Digital India. For, maintaining law and order at such gatherings is a headache for the police and the administration. Stampedes are also a part of such gatherings. Also, there are fights for a vantage seating to have a glimpse of the leader and take selfies. Virtual rallies are better managed.

A virtual rally in Uttar Pradesh

From what I have read in newspapers, there are over 150 crore android phones in use in Uttar Pradesh. Among these, 80 to 90 crore are in rural areas. See the participation of voters….Our rural voters are more concerned and their participation is more than the urban populace.

So even though at present, only the educated and those with better internet connectivity are able to attend the virtual rallies, the immediate future will turn things around. The rural voters like us will be the toast of the town, with affordable smartphones in hands and the focus of political leaders seeking votes.

As told to Rajat Rai

‘3rd Wave Is Upon Us; Of All Gatherings, Election Rallies Are Worst’

Dr Mridul Sharma, 24, from Amritsar, says our leaders lecture others on Covid-appropriate behaviour but fall short of following the protocols themselves

No matter where the Covid-19 has come from, it is certain that it will go very far in destroying the health of millions. And we doctors and other frontline healthcare professionals are the first line of defence when the virus attacks. The Delta variant has shown just how devastating the effects of the mutated virus can be and I am pretty sure the Omicron variant is going to cause as much, if not more, damage. The third wave is a certainty and we should brace ourselves for it.

People have no idea how much pressure healthcare workers come under, when the cases surge and peak. Not only are we ill equipped to fight the virus, as it is mutating faster than we can understand it, we are also overwhelmed with the volume of cases.

Conducting a political rally when the third wave is imminent, isn’t a good idea. In fact any gathering is not a good idea, be it a marriage or funeral, but political rallies are the worst. A big rally is scheduled for January 5 in Punjab and in my opinion by January 15, there are chances of the third wave striking in force. I wish people understood the situation.

I myself contracted the virus twice, once in August 2020 and the second time during the second wave. And since I live alone, it gets difficult to manage the infection on one’s own. My oxygen saturation levels went dangerously low while I was infected. On Covid duty during the second wave, I had to take up rented accommodation near the hospital, so that I didn’t have to commute much and there were lesser chances of me infecting someone else.

Sharma lost his grandfather to post-Covid complications but had little time to grieve his death

Most other people can cope with the slow recovery but a healthcare professional, especially a doctor, has to get back on one’s feet immediately. I lost my grandfather aged 86 to post-Covid complications in April. He was full of life and someone with a healthy lifestyle and yet it was difficult for him to fight the long Covid complications. As healthcare professionals we don’t even get time to grieve our loved ones. When people conduct election rallies they must understand that human lives at stake.

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My sister is a dentist and during the second wave, healthcare professionals from other streams were also asked to pitch in to enhance resources. My parents get anxious to see both their children stand in the frontline. I wish governments understood that individual families get impacted when prevention isn’t done well and each story ends up differently.

Tamam umr sarkarein yahi bhool karti rahi, dhool chehre pe thi aur aaina saaf karti rahi. (Governments commit this mistake all the time: find fault in others’ behaviour, forget to check their own record). Political leaders should lead by example so that the public knows how to behave and follow Covid protocols. As the virus mutates, the complications are also getting severe: the Guillane-Barre syndrome, body paralysis, long Covid etc. And people with co-morbidities have it tougher.

India has better immunity than most countries because of our food habits, but we also have enormous numbers. We are bracing ourselves to report on Covid duty once again. Even if we report on duty for one day, we have to quarantine ourselves for a fortnight. It isn’t easy to be confined for that long every few days. And when we are called on duty, the workload is beyond overwhelming. We all need to take the right decisions every step of the way to fight the virus.