After nearly 11,000 deaths and massive surge in Covid-19 cases, the big political players in West Bengal finally decided to put a halt on election rallies. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has so far done two rallies, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who took out several roadshows even after being on wheelchair, and then the BJP’s top two - PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah - who gathered massive crowd at several public meetings, announced on Monday that no “big” public meeting would be held in the poll-bound state, which is in the mid of high voltage elections with three more phases to go. The Bengal, which is polling in eight phases, has this time witnessed one of the most acerbic campaigns with both the ruling party and the opposition attacking each other no holds barred. And while the two sides were busy attacking each other, the pandemic that is raging across the country and the world took a backseat in this part of India.
Politicians may have decided to take a step back, at least by the look of it, but not the politics. Rahul Gandhi, who essentially plays touch-and-go during elections, tried to take a moral high ground by requesting fellow politicians on the micro-blogging site - Twitter - to “think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances.” This “big” statement came after xx days into polling, and all these weeks COVID cases were consistently showing the upwards graph.
Then came another request. Chief Minister Mamata Banrejee, who has ruled the state for 15 years, with “folded hands” requested the Election Commission to hold the next three phases on a single day. "Please don't take your decision based on what the BJP says... Please ensure that you protect public health by curtailing the poll schedule, even if it is by one day," she said, adding that her party would not hold any rally in congested areas. So, there’s still a scope of a rally in a non-congested area.
Notably, Mamata Banrejee - who was busy attacking the poll body and the rival Bharatiya Janata Party - did not attend any COVID-update meeting with the prime minister. While all other CMs, including those from non-BJP states, were busy asking for vaccine quota and more resources for their states, Mamata Banerjee was busy strategizing the next move to counter the BJP challenge in the state, first in chappals (slippers), then on the wheelchair.
The BJP too followed ‘Didi’, and announced that it has decided against holding any big rally or public meeting, including by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other party leaders, in the ongoing West Bengal assembly poll campaign. Interestingly, an option of “small meetings with not more than 500 people” was left open, like Mamata Banerjee.
And all this is happening in Bengal when several states, including the national capital Delhi have opted for lockdowns to save lives. The state reported the highest single-day spike of 8,426 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 38 people died of the infection in the state, as per the Health Department.
But Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee preferred “political pollution” over people. The chief minister said, "Night curfew or lockdown may not be a solution in Bengal, where political pollution needs to be checked first." The state government, however, ordered all government and private offices to function with 50 per cent attendance. The state government issued a notice this afternoon stating that summer vacation in schools which are aided and run by it will begin early from Tuesday itself. Banerjee also urged the Centre to ensure smooth supply of vaccines and medicines to the state.
But, is it too little, too late? Only time will tell. Experts have warned that the full impact of poll gatherings that blatantly flouted COVID norms, will be known in a week or so. Fingers crossed.
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