Virtual poll campaign: Congress surges ahead of other parties in Punjab; SAD cries foul at ECI’s directive

Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday kick-started party's digital campaign and revealed an agenda of governance reforms primarily through digitisation and making a ‘Digital Punjab’

Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu (File photo)
Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu (File photo)
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Bipin Bhardwaj

With the Election Commission of India imposing a complete ban on all physical rallies, roadshows and corner meetings etc till January 15, all the political parties in Punjab have swung into action to reach out to grassroot level workers and voters through social media.

Interestingly, while the main political parties including the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), BJP and its new political partner Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) have welcomed the step initiated by the ECI keeping in mind the resurgent COVID pandemic, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has lodged an objection to it. It has displayed restlessness ever since after the ECI banned physical rallies and enforced a virtual mode of election campaigns.

The ruling Congress party took an early lead in the direction, coming out with a virtual campaign for the Assembly elections. Punjab Congress president Navjot Singh Sidhu on Sunday kick-started the party's digital campaign and revealed an agenda of governance reforms primarily through digitisation and making a ‘Digital Punjab’.

Claiming to be the first party to come out with a virtual campaign, Sidhu said the Congress had been emphasising the importance of digitisation and maintaining a virtual interaction with the electorate.

Asserting that the state Congress had maximum engagement and outreach in digital space, Sidhu said, “We are ready for an online campaign, coordinating with our workers and leaders at district, Assembly and booth levels.”

He said the party’s social media war room had more than 10000 WhatsApp groups and they were reaching out to people at the booth level via Facebook, WhatsApp and other digital mediums.

The party aimed to create a “Digital Punjab” wherein over 150 government services, permits and approvals would be made available to people on their doorstep. The revolution was intended to begin with the first-of-its-kind ‘Digital Election’, planned to be held in Punjab, and pave the way for digitalisation for all other activities, he added.

Appreciating the ECI’s decision, AAP leader Harpal Cheema termed it a style of their party which they have been following during the pandemic. “We have always believed in door-to-door campaigns in small groups,” he claimed.

Manwhile, the BJP, which with the assistance of RSS has been trying to make its presence felt in the state, claims to have enough experience in organising virtually rallies. Sources in the Punjab BJP IT Cell revealed that the party was prepared for the virtual election campaign.

Former Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, founder of Punjab Lok Congress (PLC), has also welcomed the ECI’s decision. The PLC has also started setting up a ‘war room’ to launch a virtual election campaign.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a former political partner of the BJP, has however smelt a conspiracy behind the ECI’s order, claiming that the decision is aimed at giving a benefit to the BJP. Apprehending that its rural vote bank, on which the SAD has always relied, would be lost, the party has raised objections on the virtual mode of election campaign.

SAD spokesperson Dr. Daljeet Singh Cheema said, “Virtual rallies are impossible. Does the EC think elders, rural people, labourers, daily wagers and voters below the poverty line will have smartphones, Internet to access such rallies?”

Cheema claimed the party had conveyed its opposition to the EC in a verbal communication on Sunday. He said it was a ritual for candidates to reach out to voters, listen to their concerns, problems and offer solutions through promises. “Would the virtual rallies, meetings be a two-way communication? How will the election commission compensate for a lag on the Internet?” he questioned.

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