Needed: A safe election season

  • ECI has rolled out measures for the polls as Covid cases surge. Enforce them diligently
ECI has banned all rallies till January 15, capped the number of cars in a convoy and electors in a booth, and made regular sanitisation of polling stations and thermal checking mandatory(HT Photo/Arvind Yadav) PREMIUM
ECI has banned all rallies till January 15, capped the number of cars in a convoy and electors in a booth, and made regular sanitisation of polling stations and thermal checking mandatory(HT Photo/Arvind Yadav)
Published on Jan 10, 2022 08:37 PM IST
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ByHT Editorial

The Election Commission of India (ECI) last week set the ball rolling on a high stakes round of assembly elections in February-March, which will happen amid a surge in coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant. A large part of chief election commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra’s press conference was dedicated to explaining the measures the panel is taking to ensure as safe a polling exercise as possible. ECI has banned all rallies till January 15, capped the number of cars in a convoy and electors in a booth, and made regular sanitisation of polling stations and thermal checking mandatory. Poll officials will be fully vaccinated and those eligible will be given booster doses.

This is the third set of assembly elections in the shadow of the pandemic, after Bihar in October-November 2020, just as the first wave of infections was receding, and West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry in March-April 2021, coinciding with the brutal second wave. In each round, ECI imposed stringent restrictions on campaigning, only to see these being flouted. This is unfortunate. The second wave of Covid-19 showed the country the dangers of reckless electioneering and how maskless rallies with no social distancing can drive infections. Experts pointed out how the multiphase polls saw several superspreader events even as the local administration appeared unable, or unwilling, to enforce even basic Covid-19 protocols — a phenomenon that later drew judicial censure.

Initial indications are that both ECI and political parties have learnt from those harrowing events. The ban on rallies is a step in the right direction, and its full-throated welcome by political parties — many of which called off events before the moratorium was announced — augurs well for the country’s fight against the third wave of infections. But this momentum must be sustained throughout the two-month election season that lies ahead. When ECI reviews its decision on banning physical campaigning later this week, the only factors on the table should be science, data, and medical expertise. Likewise, implementation of the guidelines and imposition of fines and penalties for flouting them must be done stringently with no heed to political considerations. The responsibility for safeguarding the election process lies with all stakeholders: ECI, political parties, candidates and their supporters, and the public. India cannot afford another savage summer of human losses.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022