Bengal polls 2021: Suggestions to club last two phases amid Covid surge
A Congress candidate has died after testing positive for Covid-19, deepening fears that the long-drawn-out election process in Bengal has turned perilous in the middle of a second wave of infection and prompting suggestions that at least the last two phases of polling be clubbed.
The demand is likely to come up on Friday at an all-party meeting, scheduled by the Election Commission on the Covid situation in the wake of the death of Rezaul Haque, the Congress candidate from the Murshidabad seat of Samserganj.
But a spokesperson for the Election Commission in New Delhi told PTI in response to a question whether some phases could be merged: “No such plan of clubbing phases.”
Four of the eight phases are over in Bengal and the fifth is scheduled on Saturday.
At least three other candidates have tested Covid-positive: they are the RSP’s Jangipur (Murshidabad) candidate Pradip Nandy and Trinamul’s Goalpokhor (North Dinajpur) candidate Gulam Rabbani and Jalpaiguri nominee P.K. Burma.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee suggested clubbing of the last two phases, conceding that it might harm her party since the areas involved are Trinamul strongholds but declaring she would accept such a move in the people’s interest.
“The fifth phase has to be held as scheduled on Saturday as only 48 hours are left. The Election Commission might (also) have to hold the (sixth phase) as scheduled, on April 22, as all the formalities have been completed,” she said.
“If they can club the last two phases (scheduled on April 26 and 29), we have no problem as it would give the people some relief during the pandemic.”
Mamata blamed the deterioration in Bengal’s Covid-19 situation on the polls being drawn out into eight phases and the BJP bringing in outsiders.
“There was no reason to hold elections in eight phases in Bengal.… It is an insult to Bengal, particularly when polls were held in one phase in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and in two phases in Assam,” Mamata said.
Mamata added: “Besides, the regular entry of outsiders from states where the (Covid) situation is grim has turned the situation critical. During the Prime Minister’s rallies, many people from other states come in.”
Mamata said she would not accept any Election Commission decision to curb large rallies ahead of the remaining phases. The poll panel is expected to announce some anti-Covid measures at Friday’s all-party meeting.
“Four phases of the polls have already been held. If we are now asked to hold street corners ahead of the remaining phases, we can’t accept it,” the chief minister told ABP Ananda during an interview.
She suggested that any restrictions on large rallies ahead of the next phases would give the BJP an unfair advantage.
It was in this context that Mamata signalled she was open to the number of phases being reduced by merging them.
“The elections will now be held in areas where we have strong bases. In the first four phases, (when polling was held in places) where the BJP had won some seats (in the 2019 general election), all types of rallies were allowed,” she said.
“We cannot now accept any restrictions on large rallies. We will follow all guidelines and protocols during the meetings.”
Mamata was responding to a question on the CPM’s decision to do away with large rallies.
Poll panel sources said that merging the remaining phases was extremely unlikely.
“Saturday’s polling cannot be deferred since all the arrangements have been made. It’s not possible to bring the last three phases forward as that would require the deployment of another 1,500 companies of central forces and cut down campaigning time for the candidates,” a source said.
Another official said that deferring some of the phases to April 29 would not help, either, as the poll panel would have to allow campaigning till April 27 at all these seats, leading to an overall increase in rallies.