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Editorial: Gone fishing

Odisha panchayat poll campaign shows the way

The Editorial Board Published 09.02.22, 12:49 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. Shutterstock

There is nothing fishy about it. Ahead of the upcoming panchayat elections in Odisha, given the Covid-19 restrictions on large rallies, candidates are using campaigning strategies that are so simple and direct that they are remarkable in today’s world. One candidate is carrying around a live version of her election symbol — a fish — as she goes door to door to canvass support. Another candidate is lugging around an LED television set — her symbol — while yet another contestant, an ayurvedic doctor, offers consultations to voters when he visits them. At a time when bigger political leaders, starting with the prime minister, increasingly rely on technology for modern campaigning, Odisha’s candidates represent a breath of fresh air and a reminder of just how far India has drifted away from the fundamental, honourable ideals of democratic elections. In a country where the universal adult franchise is the only right truly available to all adult citizens, election campaigning is the one time when Indians have traditionally had a chance to see their candidates up close. That practice has been upended in recent years by the growing reliance of major political parties on virtual rallies, interactions via holograms, and political messaging on social media platforms.

Of course, technology has brought about positive changes to elections too, and it could serve even more as a force for good. If all candidates could communicate with voters remotely, and all citizens could access their messaging with equal ease, digital campaigning could — in theory — dramatically cut the carbon footprint associated with the cross-country travel that senior political leaders undertake during key elections. But in reality, money power — just as it does with traditional election campaigning — makes virtual campaigning an uneven playing field. Hiring an army of people to artificially boost political messages on Twitter or Facebook needs plenty of cash, which only some parties have. That is why the approach to campaigning adopted by many candidates in Odisha is worth celebrating. The very idea behind election symbols is to help build a unique brand for each candidate or party, especially in a nation where millions still cannot read. It is hard to forget someone who shows up at the door with a living fish in her hand. If that helps to tip the scales in favour of these innovative politicians, that can only be healthy for Indian democracy.

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