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Elections in black and white
- In hurly burly of campaigning, colour goes out as poll panel casts hawk’s eye

Elections and movies move in opposite directions in Bihar. Years ago you had black and white movies and colourful elections, now you have colour movies and drab polls.

One can travel for miles through Bihar without spotting a poster, graffiti or banner. “It’s only the campaign vehicles in the evening that remind us it is election time,” said Sanjay Kumar, a 52-year-old bank official in Purnea.

In any Bihar town it is difficult to spot a party office, so devoid of colour they are even in this poll season. Former MP Shivanand Tiwari had in the 2005 election expressed his frustration over the matter. After the EC ordered removal of posters and banners, he asked: “Where does the Election Commission (EC) expect us to hang posters and banners? In the sky?”

Till the early 1980s, old-timers recall, elections in Bihar were marked by a fervour no less than a festival. “In the 1960s and 1970s, we remember, folk songs used to be churned out during the polls. All that has changed. The festivity associated with polls is gone. It is a drab affair now,” said Tiwari. With so many norms and restrictions on putting up posters, banners and hoardings, elections are a serious affair now.

“In the early days, when posters and banners used to be allowed, they set a different atmosphere. But all that is not allowed anymore. We have to rely on door-to-door campaigning now,” said BJP candidate from Pataliputra constituency, Ram Kripal Yadav. An old election war-horse, Yadav misses the magic that posters, banners and graffiti creates.

“To put it in simple words, the EC has taken the charm out of elections. It has become a dull and colourless affair now,” said the RJD’s national spokesperson, Manoj Jha.

“Taking necessary permission from the district administration and private house owners is a botheration. We simply avoid it and keep things simple,” he said.

The change came because of the Bihar Defacement Property Act, 1985, which prohibits putting up banners and posters or even writing graffiti on government or private property. The Act was amended in 2009-10 to allow political parties to use private buildings for displaying posters, banners and flags during the Lok Sabha election. “After amendment of the Act, those willing to use private buildings for putting up posters or displaying banners and flags need to procure written permission from the building owner,” Bihar deputy election officer Ashok Priyadarshi said.

What makes parties and candidates more careful is the random check by EC officials. Priyadarshi said poll officials check if a political party or candidate has procured written permission from a building owner before using the premises to hang campaign material.

“No doubt it is a good and positive step that has helped bring down expenses. There also used to be so much booth capturing in those days. Now, there are enough forces to check that. When you look back, you will find the campaign then was not too loud, but there were banners, posters, graffiti everywhere,” said C.P. Thakur, a three-time MP, former Union minister and now BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP. He also praised EC for allowing voters to be driven to polling stations, a big boon for the elderly.

The EC, by enforcing rules, has drilled fear into the candidates’ minds. “We have to work within the system. The party cannot violate EC norms. Everything has to be done with proper approval,” said Jaeya Mishr, who looks after the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee’s publicity campaign.

There was a time when parties and candidates use to list their achievements and promises through billboards. The Left parties, which are more active on the ground, used to ensure that the election mood is on the wall.

JD(U) state unit president Bashishtha Narayan Singh said: “Banners and posters do make a big difference in elections and I feel before making such rules, the EC should have invited all parties to discuss it. There should be some relaxation so that parties get a feel of the election.”

The law is not confined to Bihar. Similar laws apply in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Delhi. Bengal repealed such a law while there is no such law in Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya and Odisha.