The Election Commission of India banned on Tuesday all victory processions on May 2, both during and after the counting of votes. Poll results of five states will be declared on Sunday — at a time when the country has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.Legislative Assembly polls were scheduled in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam, and Puducherry in eight phases, beginning March 27 and ending April 29.
“Not more than two persons shall be allowed to accompany the winning candidate or his/her authorised representative receive the certificate of election from the Returning Officer concerned,” an Election Commission notification said today.
Coming amid a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the poll panel had laid down protocol for the contesting parties and leaders to follow to minimise the spread of infections. The rules were, however, mostly observed only in the breach by most political outfits and their contestants, with huge rallies and marches sending social distancing for a toss.
The second wave has, meanwhile, intensified in its ferocity, making way for suggestions that the elections have turned into Covid catalysts. For the sixth straight day today, India logged over three lakh cases and 2,771 deaths, taking its overall caseload to over 1.76 crore and fatalities to 1,97,894.
The Madras high court had on Monday held the Election Commission as “singularly responsible” for the second wave of Covid-19 in India. Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee even went to the extent of noting that EC officials should probably be “booked on murder charges” for allowing political rallies during the Covid-19 pandemic. Coming down heavily on the poll body, the high court bench said that a proper “blueprint” of a plan to ensure Covid-19 protocols are followed on May 2 must be submitted before it by April 30, failing which the court might even resort to stopping the counting of votes.
Election Commission sources, however, maintain that the poll panel proceeded with caution all along, first in Bihar last year and then in the four states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. They said while enforcing the Disaster Management Act to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour was the responsibility of the State Disaster Management Authority, the commission invoked its constitutional powers to place curbs on campaigning in Bengal to reduce exposure of people to the virus.
“We were ahead of the curve in ensuring safety of voters and personnel in the pandemic,” a functionary said, according to a PTI report.
According to the functionaries, when elections were announced, the pandemic then was at its lowest stage. “The number of new cases in the country in February were hovering around 11,000 new cases a day and all states and UTs had reported a decline in active cases in January-February. The vaccination was in full swing, signs of economic revival were visible,” a functionary told PTI.