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Give us Covid safe polls through the foreseeable future

Surging Covid cases in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala require the Election Commission to rethink how poll campaigns are conducted for the foreseeable future. Political rallies are the macro campaigning mode of choice for top leaders, often with large crowds bussed in from nearby areas. With the pandemic, it is important to conduct elections – a vital expression of popular democratic will – in the safest way possible. Unfortunately, there has been rampant neglect of Covid appropriate norms, which has hit home now as another deadly Covid wave.

The correlation is stark. Bengal witnessed a 448% jump in active caseload, Tamil Nadu 309% and Kerala 111% over the fortnight ending April 13. At any given time, one or more states are engaged in assembly elections, bypolls or civic body polls – making elections a permanent feature of India’s political landscape. This is where election authorities must intervene more energetically to enforce their own guidelines for Covid appropriate behaviour. Lodging FIRs against rally organisers is ineffectual given the poor prosecution record in poll time offences.

Unable to roll up the remaining Bengal phases into one big election day and considering the egregious violations so far, the least EC can do is cancel all physical political rallies now, going beyond limiting them to certain hours of the day or passing the buck to district election officers. The alternative – recurring super spreader rallies – has become morally untenable amid mounting loss of lives. UP’s panchayat elections while caseloads are mushrooming across its big cities could fan the pandemic deep into the interiors. Current national surge could recede, only to be followed by more variants and waves. This necessitates a thorough shift to safe political mobilisations. Business as usual is an unaffordable luxury until this virus is conclusively tamed.



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This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.



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