West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday cancelled all her pre-scheduled election meetings and public rallies following an order from the Election Commission of India (ECI). The poll body put a ban on all rallies in the state due to a surge in number of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases.
“In the wake of upsurge in #COVID19 cases across the country and the ECI Order dated 22nd April, 2021, I am cancelling all my prescheduled meetings and we will reach out to the people virtually. We will be sharing the updated schedule of the virtual meetings shortly,” Mamata Banerjee tweeted.
In the wake of upsurge in #COVID19 cases across the country and the ECI Order dated 22nd April, 2021, I am cancelling all my prescheduled meetings and we will reach out to the people virtually.
We will be sharing the updated schedule of the virtual meetings shortly.
A few hours earlier, the ECI ordered that no roadshows or rallies will be allowed for the West Bengal assembly elections from 7pm on April 22 (Thursday) and permissions granted previously for such rallies and roadshow stands cancelled.
However, public meetings with a strength of less than 500 people are permitted, but with all the strict Covid-19 safety and social distancing norms.
The poll body cited the surge in Covid-19 cases and the failure of political parties to adhere to such Covid-19 norms as the reason for the order. “…the Commission has noted with anguish that many political parties/candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during the public gatherings and this is making it difficult for the State/District election machineries to enforce the aforesaid directions fully;…,” the ECI noted in its order.
Almost a week ago, on April 16, the ECI had issued new orders increasing the silence period for campaigning in the state to 72 hours from the 48 hours existing then. The commission also prohibited any campaigning between 7pm and 10am on all campaign days due to increasing Covid-19 cases.
“In view of unprecedented public health situation and the imperative of ongoing elections, the commission today (Friday) extended the silence period up to 72 hours (instead of 48 hours) and restricted the period of campaign up to 7pm (instead of 10pm). These orders have come into effect immediately,” the commission’s April 16 order said.
Further, it also directed the organisers of rallies and campaigns to provide facemasks and hand sanitisers to the attendees of such rallies and also asked them to ensure the proper usage of these measures.
Amidst the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, campaigning for the assembly elections became a key point of contention between the political parties in the fray.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is currently under isolation after testing positive on April 20, announced on April 18 that he is suspending all his political rallies in the state following the rise in number of cases. “In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal. I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” Gandhi tweeted, appealing to other political leaders to follow suit.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday evening, announced that he has cancelled his visit to the state on Friday and would instead hold a high-level meeting to review the Covid-19 situation in the country. He is also scheduled to interact with the chief ministers of states with a high burden of Covid-19 cases at 10am and with leading oxygen manufacturers in the country at 12.30pm.