‘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