Pradeep Pattanayak

Ever imagined elections without political rallies and whirlwind meetings? 

The switch over from the traditional electioneering ways to digital mode is going to be witnessed during the coming three-tier Panchayat elections in Odisha, thanks to the third wave of the on-going pandemic. 
Political parties have already started exploring how to use the virtual media to woo voters. 

This time around, Facebook and WhatsApp are going to be flooded with videos of candidates making enticing promises and hankering for votes. Twitter and Instagram will not be spared either.  The candidates in fray will resort to digital campaigning and virtual meetings. People will receive phone calls only to hear the candidates’ messages. 

In order to make most out of the digital campaigning, the Odisha unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be the first off the flock as it has decided to open a control room at the party headquarters in Bhubaneswar. The cyber army of the saffron party is everywhere, from Panchayats to District headquarters. 

Videos highlighting the successes of the Modi government, failures of Naveen Patnaik’s BJD government and local issues will be encapsulated and dispatched to the mobile phones of the voters. 

“In the coming election, we will use all available digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Video Conferencing and Zoom Meet for canvassing,” informed State general secretary of BJP, Lekhashree Samantasinghar. 

The grand old party Congress is not far behind in exploring the available resources to get closer to the voters. The party has active social media members at 35,000 booths. It will make videos targeting both the State and Central governments with special focus on local issues. 

Informing about his party’s strategy, Congress spokesperson Nishikanta Mishra said they will make short videos on local issues to reach out to the voters. 

On the other hand, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) will engage the members of its youth and students’ wings in the digital campaigning. The party has already formed WhatsApp groups in all Panchayats. The party’s campaigning vehicles with mounted LCDs screens zip across villages. The party has also planned to reach out to the voters through mobile messages and video calls. 

BJD MP Subash Singh said that his party will follow the Covid guidelines issued by the SRC and the State Election Commission and therefore, giving priority to the digital mode of campaigning. 
Since the remotest areas have poor mobile connectivity, digital campaigning will not be a feasible way to reach out to the voters. In these areas, the parties will resort to door-to-door campaigning. 
As per the direction of the Election Commission, the number of members in a team doing door to door campaigning is restricted to five only. 

Meanwhile, the notifications for the posts of Ward members, Sarpanchs and Samiti members have been published at both Panchayat and block offices and for the posts of Zilla Parishad Zones, the same have been published at the Sub-Collector offices. 

The candidates can file their nomination forms for the posts of Sarpanchs, Samiti members and Zilla Parishad members from January 17 to 21. The polls will be held in five phases on February 16, 18, 20, 22 and 24. The counting of votes and declaration of results will be held on February 26, 27 and 28. 

“At Block level, the Block Development Officers (BDOs) have issued notification for the election of Panchayat Samiti members, Gram Panchayat Sarpanchs and Ward members. Similarly, the Sub-Collectors have issued notifications for the election of the Zilla Parishad members. There will be a virtual meeting with the Collectors and SPs of all the districts on January 15 where everything relating to the Panchayat polls will be discussed,” informed secretary of State Election Commission Rabindra Nath Sahu.