Battleground Bengal: EC denies request to club remaining phases, reduces campaigning hours

In wake of Covid surge, smaller meetings advised instead of big rallies; decision after all-party meeting


After an all-party meeting with the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) in West Bengal yesterday, the Election Commission has banned all campaign activities between 7 P.M and 10 A.M. Parties cannot conduct rallies, hold nukkad sabhas (street-corner meetings), or even cultural performances like street plays during this period.

The decision was taken in wake of the second surge of Covid-19 in the country and the possibility of it spreading due to interpersonal contact during campaigning in the state where four phases of polling have already taken place, and four are remaining.

The demand for clubbing phases was made by parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Congress as well as some independents following cases where candidates had contracted the virus. Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj, has already succumbed to the disease. Meanwhile, three other electoral hopefuls are suffering from the infection. According to The Telegraph, RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma, are all Covid positive.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called for clubbing together at least the last two phases of the election. She had tweeted on April 15, “Amid an ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP’s decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”

But the BJP was opposed to this. They had also written to the CEO saying, “The right to campaign available to candidates irrespective of their affiliation to parties shall be protected. The said right already exercised by more than 60% of the candidates should also be provided to the remaining candidates to ensure equality.”

It is noteworthy that a majority of the constituencies that are going to polls in these last two phases are strongholds of the Trinamool Congress (TMC). While phase 7 will see polling in Malda Part I, Kolkata South, Murshidabad Part I, West Bardhaman Part and Dakshin Dinajpur, phase 8 will see polling in Malda Part II, Kolkata North, Murshidabad Part II and Birbhum. Malda and Murshidabad have seen instances of communal conflagration in the past, all political rivals are campaigning hard in these areas.

As we have seen in the parliamentary elections, the support for the Bharatiya Janata Party begins to fade as one heads south along the Bangladesh border. It remains to be seen if secular parties manage to hold on to these traditional bastions in wake of one of BJP’s most aggressive state election campaigns.


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