EC bans election victory rallies as Covid-19 cases continue to surge
The ban came a day after the Madras high court blamed the EC for the second pandemic wave, which has overwhelmed hospitals, and said officials of the poll watchdog should probably be tried on murder charges for allowing the violation of the norms.
The Election Commission (EC), which has drawn flak for letting political parties flout Covid-19 protocols, on Tuesday banned victory rallies on or after the counting of votes in five states and a Union Territory on May 2 besides barring over two people from accompanying winning candidates for receiving their election certificates. The ban came a day after the Madras high court blamed the EC for the second pandemic wave, which has overwhelmed hospitals, and said officials of the poll watchdog should probably be tried on murder charges for allowing the violation of the norms.
“No victory procession after the counting on 2.5.2021 [May 2, 2021] shall be permissible. Not more than two persons shall be allowed to accompany the winning candidate or his/her authorized representative receive the certificate of election from the Returning Officer concerned,” the EC said, as it detailed new protocols on the counting day in view of the Covid-19 situation.
The poll watchdog cited the broad guidelines issued on August 21 last year to conduct elections during Covid-19 and added they were framed after receiving suggestions from political parties. It added the guidelines for political parties on election campaigns and meetings were reviewed based on suggestions received from chief electoral officers. The EC said the Covid-19 related provisions for counting of votes on May 2 are to be in accordance with the broad guidelines of August 2020, with the addition of the new protocols issued on Tuesday.
The poll watchdog has faced criticism for allowing political parties to hold big rallies, where most participants, including political leaders, have been seen in attendance without masks. It issued guidelines reiterating the importance of adhering to Covid-19 protocol but did not act against any leader or party for flouting them.
The EC has also faced criticism for holding the West Bengal assembly elections across eight phases, and for refusing to combine later phases even as the health crisis escalated and triggered a shortage of critical resources such as medical oxygen needed to save lives.
The daily Covid-19 cases in the country have risen by over 400% since April 1 and deaths by over 600%. India on Tuesday reported 68,546 new infections and 2,771 fatalities (CHECK).
The lowest turnout--roughly 75.06%—so far was recorded in the seventh and the penultimate phase of elections in West Bengal amid surging Covid-19 infections in the state on Monday when it reported around 16,000 infections and 68 deaths.
Elections were also held in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry in March and April. The counting of votes there will take place along with that in West Bengal after the last phase of polling in the state on Thursday.
The campaigning for the West Bengal elections has ended. The EC earlier banned it at night, increased the silence period from 48 hours to 72 hours, and limited election rallies to 500 people after the Calcutta high court last week expressed dissatisfaction over measures taken to enforce Covid-19 norms during the polls.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Jagat Prakash Nadda welcomed the EC order banning victory processions. “I have directed all state units of BJP to strictly adhere to this decision. All karykartas [workers] of BJP are using their energies to help the ones in need in this hour of crisis,” Nadda said in a tweet.
RESPONSES FROM OTHER MAJOR POLITICAL PARTIES
Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association of Democratic Reforms said that EC’s move came far too late and would achieve very little. “The Commission should have ensured that the protocols were followed far more sternly,” he said. “The EC has lost its credibility, which will take a long time to recover.”
The Madras high court on Monday warned it could even stall the counting of votes unless the EC produced a Covid-19 protocol blueprint for it on April 30. The court said at no cost can counting be allowed to become a catalyst for a further surge. It toned down its observations as the reference to murder charges was not part of the written order. The court said public health is of paramount importance. “It is only when a citizen survives that he’ll be able to enjoy the rights that a democratic republic guarantees.”
The court noted that face masks, sanitisers were not used, and no social distancing was maintained during election campaigning.