As elections for five Assemblies start off with a ban on physical campaigning till January 15 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, Election Commission officials said on Saturday the rules regarding the conduct and expenditure of conventional campaign would be applicable to virtual campaign events .
Announcing the poll schedule for Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra on Saturday also encouraged candidates to adopt the virtual mode of campaigning as much as possible. The EC banned physical rallies and roadshows till January 15, when it planned to review the situation before taking a call on the rest of the campaign period.
The revised guidelines for elections released by the EC put a complete ban on nukkad (street corner) sabhas or meetings on public roads, roundabouts, public streets and corners.
A top EC official said as candidates have to open an account and submit their expenditure details for physical events, they should do the same for online rallies or events. Similarly, the Model Code of Conduct, which bans certain kinds of speech and misuse of government machinery for electoral purposes, would be applicable.
The candidates would have to apply for clearance from the Media Certification and Monitoring Committees, which usually give pre-certification for advertisements, the official said. In fact, earlier this week, the EC announced that the expenditure limit for candidates had been increased from ₹28 lakh to ₹40 lakh. At the press conference, Mr. Chandra said one of the reasons for this was the increased expenditure on digital campaigning during the pandemic.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party had started digital rallies in the Bihar Assembly elections in 2020, the first elections to be held during the pandemic, it remains to be seen how all political parties proceed under the new rules. The EC official said the candidates and the political parties would learn from their experiences till January 15 and that complaints against violation of the MCC would also be recorded through the EC’s usual systems, including the cVigil app.