Covid-19: Cost India pays for election rallies

Pandemic proliferates as poll panel naps

Politics

April 14, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Covid-19: Cost India pays for election rallies

According to data from state health department, West Bengal has seen a 378 pc increase in Covid-19 during last 14 days (PTI Photos)

After polling was over in 3 states & half of West Bengal had voted, the Election Commission woke up to remind politicians about Covid-19 safety protocols. Doctors & political analysts say that damage has already been done as the second wave of coronavirus ravages India.

“I am scared for my family’s health as I go back home every evening after election duty here. People are not following the safety protocols and many of them have been part of the election rallies that witnesses thousands of people coming together from all over the state without any kind of mask or social distancing. Many people have also developed Covid-19 symptoms and have tested positive. Despite that, even at polling booths, it has been a difficult task to maintain safety protocols,” says a 50-year-old school-teacher from Kolkata, West Bengal who was on election duty during the fourth phase of polling in the state on April 10.

The teacher who wished to stay anonymous adds that she goes back home to her old parents who do are sick and feels that she might carry the infection to them as she works meets and works with thousands of people every day at the polling booth.

In the school where she teaches, a colleague of hers has also tested positive for Covid-19, about two days ago. He had been part of many of the election rallies in the state as an organising member. This situation worries her. “My colleague was among the election rally organisers in many parts of the state. He said that despite their request, none of the politicians or the viewers agreed to wear masks, let alone social distancing. Now that he has tested positive, one can only imagine that how many politicians and the individuals in the crowd must have had been in contact with infected people and how many of them have taken the virus to their homes, families and different parts of the country. The situation is disturbing,” she explains.

According to the Union health ministry’s latest data, India has so far reported a record single-day rise of 1,84,372 new coronavirus infections pushing the total tally of cases to 1,38,73,825, while the active cases again surpassed the 1.3 million mark, for the first time since October 2020. The death toll increased to 1,72,085 with 1,027 daily new fatalities, the highest since October 18, 2020. Despite the spread of the virus, night curfews and lockdown being imposed in many states of the country, elections are going on.

Many doctors’ associations and organisations also wrote and requested the Election Commission of India to put a limit on the number of people in election rallies and ensure the following of minimum required safety protocols by the politicians as well as common people in the crowd, but the poll body ignored their pleas, they say.

Covid-19 cases have increased manifold in India during the last two weeks. According to the data of the state health departments, West Bengal has seen a 378 pc change in the last 14 days as far as Covid-19 cases are concerned. Assam meanwhile has seen a 331 pc increase in the number of cases. Puducherry and Tamil Nadu have registered a 175 pc and 173 pc rise in cases, respectively.

“One can easily notice that number of cases have grown multiple times during last few days in states like West Bengal, where election rallies often saw a gathering of a few thousand, that too without any social distancing, without masks and without any kind of safety measures,” says Dr Payal Gobind, a Kolkata based general physician.

She goes on to say that she, as a frontline worker, had not been this hassled and busy even last year. The election rallies and huge gatherings have increased her workload. “I have been a frontline worker since April 2020 and not seen such a spur of cases suddenly. We, a group of doctors, had also written to the health department and Election Commission to stop these rallies as they act as super-spreaders of the virus. But neither did we get any reply, nor were the rallies stopped or any precaution taken,” she adds.

While doctors and people are worried about the sharp spike in the second wave of the pandemic throughout the country and especially in the states where polls are due, political activists seem less than worried about the situation. “I do not agree with the doctors who say it is unmanageable. They are doctors and they should do their work. They are not supposed to advise politicians on when and where to organise an election rally,” says a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) the University of Delhi, the student wing of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Another member of the same organisation says that elections are not supposed to be postponed as it gives undue advantage to some parties. “I agree that it is not the perfect time for election rallies and polling, but what can one do? You cannot let a party be in power beyond the fixed time. It will give undue advantage to them. Elections are inevitable and have to be held when scheduled,” he adds.

However, Dr Gobind strongly disagrees. She feels that in a situation where the population’s lives are compromised, the Election Commission should have interfered and at least ensured that there was a limited number of people in the rallies and politicians themselves should have urged the people to follow safety norms.

“Election Commission should have stepped in way earlier. They should have warned the politicians that their rallies would be banned if they did not follow the safety protocols. They could have done virtual rallies. They could have asked people to maintain distancing if they wanted. EC has finally warned politicians on Tuesday but what were they doing till now? Was Covid not spreading then,” she asks.

She goes on to say that the politicians as well as the Election Commission of India have shown a complete disregard towards the health and lives of people in the country. “Elections are important but so are the livelihoods and lives of millions of people across the country who lose their work to lockdown or worse, die of the infection. It is too late now and a lot of damage has already been done but I totally believe that the unprecedented growth could have been avoided if the EC or politicians or any authority would have stepped in earlier,” she adds.

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