After Calcutta High Court cracked the whip and Prime Minister Narendra Modi—having succumbed to pressures from all sides–called off all his four rallies scheduled on April 23 the easiest thing for the ‘ailing’ Election Commission of India was to impose ban on all the poll-related gatherings exceeding 500 people. The EC would have come out in flying colours had it issued this order hours before the judiciary stepped in on the same April 22 morning.
Anyway, this action has been taken by the EC when campaigning has reached its final end. Not only that, compared to ordering restrictions just for the rest 71 seats, conducting counting in all the district headquarters of four states and one Union Territory on May 2 is a much uphill task.
It is all the more challenging given the fact that the new Chief Election Commissioner, Sushil Chandra tested positive exactly a week after taking over the charge of the new post on April 13. The other Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar is also suffering from corona.
Curiously, the three-member Election Commission is yet to get the third member even as such crucial elections are going on in four states and one Union Territory.
Though the EC’s decision—may be too little too late—was welcomed by some quarters, yet no one is coming up with any solution on how to hold counting in about 125 districts of India in close halls packed with officials, workers of the political parties and many other people in this high-time of corona virus. It is because of the sheer delay on the part of the Election Commission in conducting election in West Bengal that a large number of people are likely to be exposed to COVID-19. Not only that once out of the counting centres, many of them, it is feared, would spread the virus. This is the last thing the country wants.
The counting cannot be put off further as the term of these
Assemblies would be expiring at the end of May.
Besides, nobody is sure how long will the corona surge continue.
Interestingly, the four-phase panchayat-polls are going on in Uttar Pradesh while Bihar has postponed a similar exercise later this year.
The rival parties, especially the Trinamool Congress, have been accusing the BJP of deliberately influencing the Election Commission to prolong the election in West Bengal to eight phases. If the allegations are really true then the move has certainly backfired. Whether the BJP will have to pay electorally or not could be known only on May 2 but the saffron party has certainly earned a bad name as its bigwigs were busy campaigning till April 22, the day West Bengal reported about 12,000 cases and 56 deaths due to corona virus.
The ground reports suggest that the Prime Minister cancelled his election meetings on April 22 and the Union home minister too rushed back to Delhi on the same day after addressing just one rally instead of three scheduled on that day after they got an idea that the whole exercise is fast proving counter-productive.
As in the last one week or so the electronic media had started giving less coverage to their speeches because of the surge in COVID-19, the BJP rank and file started feeling somewhat demoralised. Their spirit was dampened as the saffron party largely depends on the propaganda machinery.
The fear of pandemic started having its impact on the leaders and workers who had poured in from across India. Due to such a long polling process a sort of election-weariness started gripping the workers of almost all the political parties, especially the BJP, which is a cadre-based outfit.
The party’s central leadership did not predict such a situation beforehand.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.