Covid-19 has taken its first toll from among the candidates contesting the ongoing polls in Bengal. And at last, after being directed by the Calcutta High Court, the Election Commission (EC) has woken up to the grim reality of the new menace of the second wave of the deadly disease.
Whether it will be able to contain the spread of the pandemic in the last twelve days of campaigning is, however, anybody’s guess. Meanwhile, the daily infection rate is at an all-time high in Bengal now. On Wednesday, it stood at 5,892. Last time, during the first wave, it never touched the 5,000 mark.
On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi came to campaign in Bengal for the first time during this election. He criticised the centre and the state for not doing enough to prevent the spread of the killer disease. And on the very next day, Covid-19 took away his party candidate Rezaul Haq. The Congress candidate from Samsherganj of Murshidabad district passed away this morning in a Kolkata hospital after being infected with Covid-19.
The EC has convened an all-party meeting on Friday to set guidelines for the campaigning of the last three phases. So far, the EC was completely indifferent about rampant and widespread violation of Covid-19 guidelines during the campaign.
A couple of days ago, Calcutta High Court has directed the Chief Election officer of the state and the District Magistrates to monitor and take steps against those violating the guidelines. After it, the EC has woken up.
Meanwhile, CPI(M) has decided to avoid big rallies or road-shows as far as possible. Mohammad Selim, one of the topmost leaders of the party, has said, “The state government or the EC is indifferent. But we have to be by the side of the people. The commission said a lot of things. We thought they will act accordingly. They have not. Now we have decided to avoid big gatherings as far as possible.”
Will the main two camps—the BJP and the TMC—follow suit? Not likely. The campaigning for 127 constituencies is on now, and it will come to an end on the 26th of this month. Neither the TMC nor the BJP will like to lose the opportunity of demolishing each other’s bastions in the last three phases. So, it is only likely that the killer disease will spread further in the remaining days of campaigning.
(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)