The upcoming civic body elections in West Bengal were deferred by the State Election Commission (SEC) on Monday (March 16) in the light of novel coronavirus outbreak.
The decision was taken after an all-party meeting was convened by the commission in the evening to discuss the fate of the elections after the ruling party’s proposal for the postponement found resonance among Opposition parties.
Elections to the 111 municipal bodies in the state, including the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, were supposed to be held in mid-April.
These elections assumed added significance this time as they were lined up exactly a year ahead of the assembly polls, and hence viewed as a crucial barometer to understand which way the mood of the voters was likely to swing in the assembly elections.
After the all-party meeting, the commission announced that all the preparations for the civic elections were done, but considering the current situation in the wake of coronavirus endemic, polls were postponed as per the wishes of the state government and political parties.
The West Bengal government earlier in the day extended till April 15 the closure of all educational institutions over the virus threat. Cinema theatres will also remain shut till March 31.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after a review meeting on Monday announced the state government would create a ₹200-crore fund to tackle the disease.
As many as 3.24 lakh people have been screened in Bengal, the chief minister said, adding that the state is keeping a close watch on 5,590 of them, an agency report said. Till now there have been no positive cases in the state.
Soon after the state government last week issued an advisory against mass gathering, questions were raised about the feasibility of holding urban body elections without conducting political meeting and rallies.
The ruling Trinamool Congress in a statement on Sunday night said, “In view of the prevailing threat of Covid-19 and the advisories and steps taken by the West Bengal government to prevent the spread of the virus, we will appeal to the SEC to defer the upcoming municipal/ corporation elections.”
The BJP also backed the proposal, building a rare consensus among the state’s political parties.
BJP leader Mukul Roy had said it would be difficult to hold elections at this juncture due to the viral outbreak.
The commission said it would call another meeting after 15 days to review the situation and to discuss the next step.
However, the closure of schools, colleges, universities to avoid the spread of the virus did not deter political parties from hitting the campaign trail.
Leaders of all political parties continued to hold door-to-door campaign and street marches to reach out to the voters.
“We are meeting people every day because there is a more dangerous virus from which we need to protect people,” said state BJP president Dilip Ghosh in a veiled dig at the ruling TMC.
Ghosh, who has a penchant for courting controversy, on Sunday (March 15) led a march at Ward No. 97 of Kolkata Municipal Corporation.