With hoardings, posters no longer allowed, padyatras have become a necessity

While almost all political parties differ in their approach and agendas in contesting the upcoming Assembly polls, they have at least one common feature — almost all their candidates are taking out padyatras to reach out to their electorate.

Padyatras (campaigning on foot) where candidates cover numerous streets and lanes on a single day has become a necessity as parties can no longer put up posters, hoardings and billboards other than at paid advertisement sites. With the Election Commission keeping a close watch on the expenditure limits of those in the fray, candidates say they have been forced to abandon what was once a usual ride on open jeeps, thus changing the very nature of election campaigning.

“The stringent rules laid down by the Election Commission have surely worked. We used to spend a lot of money on posters, handbills and hoardings. Moreover, padyatra helps the candidate know their constituency better and get first-hand experience of the issues plaguing the area. However, it is disadvantageous for those candidates who are contesting for the first time. On an average, the candidates get 15-20 days for campaigning. For a constituency with around two lakh registered voters, it’s a bit of a task for them to get properly introduced to their electorate. Especially if they are contesting a political heavyweight,” said senior BJP leader Vijay Jolly.

However, some political activists say even well-known political faces are not taking chances and are covering as much ground as they can. “The demographic profile of several constituencies has changed as numerous unauthorised colonies have mushroomed over the past few years. So, even senior politicians are taking out padyatras ,” said a member of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee.

Mr. Jolly said it was time the Election Commission took measures like organising TV debates of major candidates in each constituency to ensure a level-playing field for all candidates. “It would specially help new faces in the fray. The Commission can book slots for each constituency on a channel like Doordarshan and advertise it properly,” said Mr. Jolly.

The old timers, however, get nostalgic about the “festive atmosphere and the fanfare” attached to the elections earlier. “ There have been several positive changes, but now the elections go almost unnoticed. I still remember how putting up hoardings at the top of a pole would almost become a competition between workers of different political parties. If the Congress workers would put up a hoarding on a pole at the Shakurpur intersection, the next morning we would find BJP workers putting up their hoarding above it. The competition would continue,” said Ravinder Kochchar, president of Shakurpur Vyapar Mandal.

Apart from padyatras , political parties and some individual candidates are also using alternate mediums like social media to reach out to their electorate.

Advertisements are being posted on websites with high user traffic. While major political parties have set up a separate IT cell to propagate their agenda, several candidates — even though they are usually not active on social media — are using Facebook to update pictures of their padyatras and post messages seeking votes.