The nation-wide lockdown that took the nation by standstill was eased by the end of May. Post that, when several states were being relaxed in terms of restrictions, Assam was again forced to enter into a re-lockdown phase because of the sheer increase in the Covid-19 transmission rates. This prolonged lockdown had a sheer impact among the regular Assamese population, especially at a time when the state elections are at the threshold.
Easy and cheap access to the internet has already been referred by many researchers and analysts to be a significant mode of political campaigning across nations which has even the power to determine the fate of democracy.
During the initial phase of the global pandemic, South Korea conducted its national elections despite international scepticism, with extreme caution. At a time when states pronounced national emergencies, terminated trade and movement and endorsed isolation as the new norm, a pertinent question arose – Is ‘democracy’ a victim of the global pandemic along with the tangible human causality? The abrupt lockdowns that governments across the globe undertook were initially considered by many critiques as an infringement on a healthy democracy, considering the negligible scope it provided to a common man to plan for a month-long lockdown along with catering to unexpected contingencies in the due.
The abrupt and the strict centralised character of the initial national lockdown in India was something that one can consider as an overtake of the federal spirit of the nation, in the however minute amount one might assume.
The same might elevate the graph of a performing democracy into the authoritarian quadrant by a few units. Post that, once the un-lockdown phase was initiated, most essential duties were disposed of in the hands of the states. This shock-therapy like modus operandi in tackling the pandemic affected the nation as a whole – crumbling of the economy in one hand and a sheer increase in human causalities on the other.
In Assam, the state saw an exponential rise in Covid affected cases and is still not seeing the dawn of the day. Despite such a tragedy, one can witness how fertile the political soil has turned into in the recent month, with the onset of the upcoming state elections.
The state has witnessed the inception of a new regional party and is now seeing how far pre-poll alliances and fronts works out. Political mobilization, along with initial campaigning has begun in the state. Plus, media attention is primarily more into covering petty political remarks and holding panel debates revolving around vague questions of political ambiguity.
At a time when the Supreme Court is hovering over the issue of determining the fine line between providing news and propagating politically obnoxious, poisonous propaganda using tools of hate and fear; and when national media houses are busy covering controversies around individuals at the cost of portraying real issues of economic decline and health concerns, Assam is witnessing a similar tide of political misinformation, which is seen with the mushrooming of numerous news portals, plus unauthorised WhatsApp forwards and the relative audience that consumes the manufactured news.
Both democracy and public health are important, neither is a subset of the other. The way the opium of political propaganda is being ushered into the market, media and in social spaces, people are bound to sideline the ongoing health crisis we are facing. As citizens, we need to participate in the electoral carnival to keep democracy alive. But nevertheless, we have to be careful of two foreign foes – Covid-19 and the Trojan horse of propaganda.