West Bengal Assembly election

Election Commission shortens time for campaigning in the last three phases of Assembly election in West Bengal amid COVID surge

Published : April 16, 2021 22:16 IST

Partha Chatterjee of the Trinamool Congress arrives for the all-party meeting organised by the Election Commission, in Kolkata on April 16. Photo: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI

BJP leaders arrive for the all-party meeting called by the Election Commission, in Kolkata on April 16. Photo: Swapan Mahapatra/PTI

The Election Commission of India has curbed the hour of campaigning for the sixth, seventh and eighth phases of the West Bengal Assembly election in view of the rising COVID-19 cases in the State.

The Election Commission of India has curbed the hour of campaigning for the sixth, seventh and eighth phases of the West Bengal Assembly election in view of the rising COVID-19 cases in the State. After holding an all-party meeting on April 16, the EC issued an order stating, “No rallies, public meetings, street plays, Nukkad sabhas, shall be allowed on any day during the days of the campaign between 7 pm and 10 am w.e.f 7 pm of 16.04.2021.” The EC, pointing to “unprecedented health concerns” said that the period of campaign in West Bengal “needs to be curtailed in larger public interest”.

The EC also warned of stern measures in case of violation of COVID norms as laid down in its guidelines. “Candidates and political parties shall ensure absolute repeat absolute adherence to COVID guidelines in letter and spirit. Violations, if any, shall be sternly dealt with and action, including criminal action, taken as per extant legal framework,” the EC order stated. The EC said that it shall be the responsibility of the organisers of public meetings, rallies, etc. “to provide masks, sanitisers to every person attending these meetings, rallies, etc., at their cost which shall be added and counted within limits of prescribed expenditure.”

In the all-party meeting, the ruling Trinamool Congress pressed for reducing the last three phases of the election to a single phase owing to escalating COVID-19 cases in the State. State Cabinet Minister and general secretary of the party Partha Chatterjee, who attended the EC meeting with senior Trinamool leader Subrata Bakshi, said after the meeting, “We have tried to explain to the EC the grave situation and asked to merge the last three phases (6, 7 and 8) into a single phase.... We want to provide the best possible service to the people in this grave situation, and deal with the crisis. We told the Election Commission that we want our democratic rights to be protected and at the same time also protect the lives of the people of Bengal.”

Trinamool, however, wanted full campaigning to be allowed. Partha Chatterjee’s request to the EC echoed Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s appeal on social media on April 15: “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP's decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) apparently put the ball in the EC’s court. Addressing the media after the meeting, senior party leader Swapan Dasgupta said, “We have advised the Election Commission to balance the need for a robust democratic culture with safety norms. It is up to the Election Commission to tell us what exactly the political parties must do. We have assured them that once they have laid down their procedure, we will adhere to them faithfully.”

The Sanyukta Morcha (the alliance between the Left, Congress and the Indian Secular Front) also assured the EC that it would abide by its rules, but also pointed out that neither the ruling Trinamool party nor the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister were adhering to the rules laid down by the EC regarding COVID protocols. The EC also pointed out in its order that it had “noted several instances of election meetings and campaigns wherein norms of social distancing, wearing of masks, etc. have been flouted in blatant disregard” of the guidelines. The EC also stated that it had “taken a serious view against repeated violations by star campaigners/ political leaders/ candidates who are supposed to be torch bearers for the campaign against COVID-19, grossly violating COVID-19 protocols, thereby exposing themselves as well as the public to the danger of infection.”

Already two candidates have passed away after contracting COVID. Congress candidate Rezaul Haque, who was contesting from Murshidabad’s Shamsherganj seat, passed away on April 15; and RSP candidate Pradip Nandi from Jangipur died on April 16. Two more candidates – the BJP’s Samarendranath Ghosh from Nadia’s Karimpur seat and Golam Rabbani from Uttar Dinajpur’s Goalpokhor seat — have tested positive for COVID-19.

On April 16, 6,910 new cases were registered, and 26 people died, raising the death toll to 10,506. The total number of active cases in the State stood at 45,113.

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