Hold polls, but in safe manner
The Election Commission must ensure Covid protocols are adhered to during poll season
The biggest political event in 2022 is the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) — along with those in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur — and from what chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra said on Thursday, it appears set to be held on schedule in February-March. Mr Chandra said all political parties in UP wanted the elections to not be delayed. He listed a series of measures the poll watchdog was going to enforce, including extending the voting time by an hour, increasing polling booths to reduce crowds, enrolling more women voters, and getting election workers fully vaccinated. The EC also asked the state to speed up vaccinations.
Elections are at the heart of a democracy, the instrument that ensures representation and accountability. Holding it on time and effectively is crucial. It should, however, be ensured that activities surrounding the elections are not at the cost of public health, and no flouting of Covid-19 protocols are encouraged during the campaign phase. In the past year, a key round of state elections coincided with the second wave of the pandemic. At a time when leaders should have cautioned people to be indoors, they were busy working up crowds into poll frenzy. Massive unmasked rallies were addressed by major leaders across the spectrum, with no concern for the health of the audience, or the potential for spreading the deadly Delta variant. Neither the administration nor the poll authorities did anything substantive to stop the rallies or penalise those organising them, and restrictions on campaigning were imposed only at the fag end of the poll season. Precious time, which could have been spent addressing shortages in hospitals, oxygen or medicines, was lost. India cannot afford a repeat of this grim sequence of events. The Election Commission is right to seek speedier inoculation and take additional measures to ensure no crowds throng voting booths. However, being vigilant through the weeks-long campaign is as important. Enforcing curbs and distancing rules, ensuring people mask up, and cracking down on defaulters must be a responsibility shared by the poll watchdog, state authorities, and political parties.
By all accounts, the Omicron variant is likely to cause less severe disease and hospitalisation than Delta. Many patients infected by the new variant have experienced mild symptoms. But this should not beget complacency. India paid a crushing price during the second wave. We cannot afford to forget those sombre lessons during poll season.
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