WB polls: More curbs on campaigning

Our Bureaus Kolkata/New Delhi | Updated on April 16, 2021

In view of rising Covid cases in West Bengal, the Election Commission of India has put in a series of curbs on campaigning with immediate effect. With the curbs coming in place, the ECI has ruled out the possibility of merging three phases of polls into a single one:

According to Madhusudan Gupta, Secretary, ECI, no rallies, public meetings, street plays, nukkad sabhas, shall be allowed on any day of campaign between 7 pm and 10 am, Friday onwards.

Silence period extended

The Election Commission has also extended the silence period for any gathering for campaigning purposes to 72 hours before the end of the poll for Phases 6-8 in West Bengal. This means, the campaigns for these phases will end on April 19, 23 and 26, respectively.

Amid the rising number of Covid--19 cases, the ECI had earlier this month flagged instances of star campaigners and leaders campaigning without face masks. It had warned that the it will “not hesitate” to ban the rallies if Covid-19 guidelines issued by it are not followed.

The decision to impose fresh curbs come after an all party meeting convened by the State CEO, where the parties unanimously agreed to “adhere to all rules of the Commission”.

Bengal is witnessing an explosion in Covid infections, with Kolkata being the worst affected reporting a daily surge of over 1,600 cases. Experts are linking the surge in infections to rallies and roadshows by political parties.

Bengal is voting in an unprecedented eight phases. Polls in four phases have already been held, while in the fifth phase elections will be held on April 17.

Speaking to media personnel after the meeting, Partha Chatterjee, Secretary General of the Trinamool, said: “We suggested clubbing of polls (phases 6-8) into a single one. But we need enough campaigning time if such clubbing happens.”

According to Swapan Dasgupta, former Rajya Sabha MP, BJP will “adhere to” all guidelines and rules laid down by the commission. But there has to be a “level playing field for all”.

‘Need level playing field’

He added that, the poll body needs to ensure “similar standards” across phases. Voting for 61 per cent of the seats will be completed by April 17, and “there cannot be a different parameter for the remaining 39 per cent of the seats”. This practically rules out organising virtual rallies, as was being discussed as a possibility in some circles.

According to Dasgupta, his party has also suggested that in view of long queues that booths witness - since physical distancing norms will be followed - central forces, wherever they are present, be allowed to check EPIC cards of voters.

Published on April 16, 2021

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