With the last two phases of polls for 71 seats due on the 26th and 29th of this month, it is almost curtains on campaigning in Bengal. And this is bad news for the BJP.
All sorts of campaigning where a large number of people assemble, like roadshows, cycle rallies and processions, have been banned by the Election Commission last night.
Public meetings can be held, but only up to 500 people can attend them. Even before the announcement came, Narendra Modi cancelled his four public meetings scheduled today. After the announcement, Mamata Banerjee also cancelled her rallies. It appears that the mode of campaigning will be virtual from now on.
The sudden changes due to COVID-19, it appears, will hit BJP the most. A BJP insider says, “There is a wave in favour of the BJP. With our intensive campaigning before every phase, we were galvanising our support just before a few days of the poll. But this will not be the case for the last phase when 35 seats of parts of the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and Birbhum and parts of Kolkata will go to the polls.
It is going to hurt us, particularly in Kolkata where we had plans to hold roadshows of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at different places.”
Another worry for the BJP is the probable fall in voter turnout in the last two phases. Party’s spokesperson Shamik Bhattacharya last evening attacked the state government for not gearing up to confront the COVID-19 situation properly and for blaming the central government for everything.
Along with it, he said, “At the last moment (of the polls) don’t create panic in the name of covid.” The party leaders feel if the voter turnout goes down in the last two phases, the party’s prospect will be hit further.
The TMC and the Samjukta Morcha, however, are not unhappy with restrictions, and they admit in private that if the campaign typhoon of Modi Shah continued for another five days as scheduled, it would have increased their disadvantage.
Meanwhile, the full bench of EC will today hold a meeting with all the electoral officials later in the day. The question is whether the seventh and eighth phase will be clubbed together.
The main constrain for doing so is the unavailability of enough central forces. If the EC now brings in new companies, it will be criticised by the TMC for ‘importing covid’ in the state. TMC has blamed the centre and BJP leaders and other outsiders for importing covid. The BJP will be hurt more if the phases are clubbed together, as the presence of central forces will become thinner then.
(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)