JDU campaign Bihar vehicle
Workers prepare a Janata Dal (United) vehicle for the campaign ahead of the upcoming Bihar Assembly Election in Patna on Tuesday. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: The usual whirring of helicopters carrying politicians is missing at election time in Bihar this year after the Election Commission banned big rallies in view of the COVID-19 outbreak. Bihar is one of the Indian states badly affected by the coronavirus that has claimed 924 lives and infected close to 200,000 people so far.

In order to check the spread of the virus, India’s poll body has initiated a host of measures to keep voters safe. More than 72.92 million voters will be exercising their franchise in the election.

Although the poll body has allowed election rallies, it has made clear that not more than 100 people could participate in each rally. Also, the people attending the rallies will have to strictly maintain social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines. These restrictions have forced the leaders to focus on digital campaigning and door-to-door campaigns to reach out to the masses instead of holding rallies. Social media such as Facebook and WhatsApp are platforms that are being extensively used by political parties to convey their messages to the voters.

No demand

The result is that this time, there is no demand for helicopters that used to attract crowds of villagers at rallies. “This election time, we have received only a few inquiries but no bookings have been done so far. The politicians don’t seem to be interested in addressing the election rallies due to the pandemic,” said Anshu Aman, whose company has been providing choppers to the political parties during elections.

Another aviation company in-charge Devendra Kumar said: “The situation is very bad this time. No-one has even enquired about the rate of choppers let aside hiring them,” Kumar said. Aviation company officials said they have been charging between Rs80,000 to Rs100,000 for hiring a single-engine chopper, while booking of multi-engine choppers costs between Rs180,000 to Rs400,000 depending upon the company and the engine model.

He said in the 2015 assembly polls as many as 32 helicopters and chartered planes were booked by different political parties to address the voters. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself addressed 26 election rallies in Bihar. BJP president Amit Shah addressed 85 election rallies.