EC calls all-party meeting as COVID strikes one candidate after another

Death of a Congress nominee and admission of several other candidates to hospitals has prompted the poll body to call an all-party meeting on April 16

An election rally in Bengal. | Photo: Twitter

The Election Commission (EC) has convened an all-party meeting in Kolkata on Friday (April 16) to discuss enforcement of COVID-19 protocol during electioneering even as the deadly virus claimed life of a candidate and infected six others, casting an ominous shadow on the poll process.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, in an interview with a Bengali news channel, suggested that the last three phases of polls be wrapped up in one or two phases. Elections will be held in 45 constituencies in the fifth phase on April 17 while the remaining 114 seats are scheduled to go to poll in subsequent three phases.

Congress candidate from Samserganj constituency in Murshidabad district, Rezaul Haque, died at a private nursing home in Kolkata on Thursday morning after testing positive for coronavirus. The polling in the constituency has been countermanded following the demise of the candidate.

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Condoling the death of his party colleague, state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury appealed to the poll panel to take note of the violations of COVID safety protocols and raise awareness level.

Haque (46) had tested positive on Wednesday (April 14) and was admitted to a private hospital in Murshidabad following complaints of breathing trouble, party sources said. He was referred to a private hospital in Kolkata after his health condition deteriorated at night. He died around 5 am.

Pradip Nandi, a candidate of Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) from Jangipur, also in Murshidabad district, was admitted to a hospital after he tested positive.

Besides, three more TMC candidates and two BJP nominees are now quarantined after being infected with the virus.

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The COVID-19 infected candidates are Pradeep Kumar Verma (TMC) from Jalpaiguri Sadar, Ghulam Rabbani (TMC) from Goalpokhar, Kalpana Kisku (TMC) from Tapan, Samarendranath Ghosh (BJP) from Karimpur and Anandmoy Barman (BJP) from Matigara-Naxalbari.

The second surge of COVID cases in the state amidst election campaigning has become a major health challenge prompting the Calcutta high court to direct the state’s chief electoral officer to strictly implement COVID-19 protocols during campaigning for the remaining phases of elections.

On Wednesday, the state logged 5,892 new cases, taking the total active cases to 32,621.

The court order came on Tuesday after it heard two public interest litigations (PIL), expressing concern over continuation of a staggered eight-phase election process without properly following any pandemic safety protocols.

All political parties have been asked to send one representative each for the discussion on April 16.

For the next phases of polling, political parties have lined up several programmes of mass contacts, including public rallies. The EC is likely to bring in some changes in campaigning to enforce social distancing, such as asking political parties to go for door-to-door campaigning instead of big crowded rallies.

A TMC source said the party would suggest the commission hold elections for the remaining 159 constituencies in one go.

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