Disquiet in BJP over UP local polls’ campaign amid Covid-19
Disquiet is brewing in a section of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh over the party’s campaigning in the ongoing state panchayat elections despite surging coronavirus infections, deaths and an overwhelmed healthcare system, HT has learnt. Senior BJP state leaders say the party, already under fire for the health crisis, is facing additional criticism for violating Covid protocol during its campaigning in UP.
They also point out that the party is facing similar public anger for huge mask-less rallies in Telangana for local body polls.
Two days ago, the state government faced sharp criticism on the issue from the Allahabad high court, which noted that 135 poll officials had died on duty and blamed the state election commission and administration for not enforcing Covid norms.
The UP government defended itself, saying the four-phase panchayat polls, which began on April 19 and ended on Thursday, was necessitated by a ruling of the Allahabad high court. “It was in the compliance of the high court’s order that the UP government had to go through panchayat polls despite Covid scare,” the government said.
But senior BJP leaders said the issue could have been taken up with the court and the election commission, given the scale of infections. A state-level functionary, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the court ordered the election, but a way could have been found.
“It is not possible to avoid crowds... The guidelines cannot be followed strictly and consequently unlike in 2020, when the rural areas were largely insulated, this time the virus has reached villages,” the functionary said. A second party functionary said this election was happening at a time there was growing unrest among the people over inadequate healthcare facilities. “Elected representatives have not been able to secure oxygen or hospital beds. There is a lot of anger, and justifiably so. The government is doing the best it can, but this time the spread is not limited to a few districts, so the facilities are not enough.”
Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst affected districts in the second wave. The state has posted a seven-day average of 34,455 cases daily, and its case count and death tally stand at 1,217,952 and 12,238, respectively.
Two party legislators Ramesh Diwaker and Suresh Srivastava and Geeta Sagar, a panchayat candidate, have succumbed to Covid-19. “In each district, the party has lost several office-bearers... It’s very demoralising,” the second functionary said.
Many party office-bearers have been discreet in voicing their concerns, but state lawmaker Prakash Dwivedi wrote to chief minister Yogi Adityanath demanding two phases of the polls on April 26 and 29 be deferred. Later, state minister Sunil Bharala and BJP MP Kaushal Kishore complained about facilities at government hospitals in Meerut and Lucknow.
A third party functionary said the state’s decision to file cases against those found to be spreading rumours was well intended but caused consternation.
Similar concerns about election rallies violating Covid protocol have also been voiced in Telangana, where elections to seven municipalities are scheduled for Friday.
A former chief election commissioner, requesting anonymity, said elections couldn’t be deferred at will. “There is a constitutional provision to hold elections on time. What the state election commission could have done is to seek an amendment to the rules in Parliament.”