The Calcutta high court on Tuesday (April 20) made a stern observation about the continuation of election campaigning as usual despite a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state.
“There have been enough rallies and meetings since the announcement of the poll dates. Now leave it to the people to decide,” remarked chief justice TBN Radhakrishnan while hearing a clutch of public interest litigations (PILs) seeking the court’s intervention to restrict electioneering in view of the rising COVID-19 cases.
West Bengal recorded 8,426 new COVID-19 cases on Monday while 38 people fell prey to the deadly virus in the past 24 hours.
The court also asked the election commission to take all necessary measures to ensure the elections are held in adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols, said Arindam Das, advocate of one of the petitioners.
The court’s observation came at a time when the election commission has miserably failed to enforce COVID protocols in the electioneering process.
Supporters of political parties continue to crowd at the rallies of their respective parties without adhering to any social distancing norms and many supporters can even be spotted not wearing masks.
The court told the commission to enforce the measures it chalked out to prevent spread of coronavirus with the help of police, if needed.
In the meantime, the Trinamool Congress on Tuesday reiterated that at least the last two phases of polling on May 26 and 29 be clubbed together in view of the worsening COVID-19 situation.
A five-member delegation of the party called on the chief electoral officer Ariz Aftab and submitted a memorandum to him placing the TMC’s demand.
Earlier, ahead of the fifth-phase of the elections, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had urged the commission to club the last three phases of polling to quickly get over with the electioneering. The commission had, however, turned down her request on the ground of inability of enough central forces to be required for conducting free and peaceful elections in Bengal.
After filing of the PILs last week, expressing concern over public health and safety and mounting public pressure, the BJP and the TMC have decided to make some “symbolic” changes in their campaign schedule.
TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has decided to restrict her campaigning in Kolkata to just one rally. She also decided to truncate the duration of her meetings in other poll-bound constituencies.
Similarly, the BJP decided to wrap up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four rallies for the remaining phases on a single day instead of two. The prime Minister’s office has also reportedly given instruction to restrict the number of crowds to a certain limit.
The party at a press conference announced that instead of April 22 and 24, Modi will hold all the four rallies on April 23.
The Congress and the Left Front already shelved plans of any bigger rallies and meetings and instead concentrating more on smaller meetings and door-to-door campaigns.
The state Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in a letter to Election Commission asked it to take a decision that “lives of people are priority than elections.”
He said the elections to the remaining phases should be held only after Covid situation is improved.
The BJP is however against tinkering of poll schedules. This has been made clear by party’s state president Dilip Ghosh at a press conference on Tuesday evening.
Three phases of elections for the 112 seats are left. Polling has been countermanded in two seats following the demise of candidates due to COVID-19.
Polling during Eid
The commission has rescheduled the polling date to May 13, triggering another controversy. Eid is likely to be celebrated on May 13 or a day later on May 14, depending on the sighting of the moon.
Both the constituencies, Samsergang and Jangipur, where polling has been rescheduled have a decisive presence of Muslim voters. Following the EC’s decision several pleas have been made to further defer the polling day.
The Bengal Imams Association appealed to the poll panel to hold the elections at least three days after Eid-ul-fitr to enable everyone to exercise their franchise after getting over with festivities.