A day before the all-party meeting convened by state Chief Electoral Officer Ariz Aftab on maintaining the Covid protocols during the ongoing Assembly elections in West Bengal, the Trinamool Congress on Thursday proposed to club the last three phases of polls scheduled on April 22, 26 and 29.
The ruling Trinamool Congress proposed to conduct the last three phases in one or two phases, considering the upward trend of Covid cases in the state for the last one month.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in a tweet, “Amid the ongoing pandemic, we firmly opposed @ECISVEEP’s decision to conduct WB polls in 8 phases. Now, in view of the huge surge in #COVID19 cases, I urge the ECI to consider holding the remaining phases in ONE go. This will protect the people from further exposure to #COVID19.”
The Trinamool supremo had earlier said in an interview, “It is upon the (Election) Commission to decide whether the last three phases of polls will be clubbed in one or two phases in the backdrop of the rise in Covid cases. We have no objection if the phases are clubbed.
“If the polls are on, we are bound to campaign. People from states like Bihar, UP, Jharkhand are coming to the state during BJP’s campaign. I do not know why the Election Commission did not consider the Covid factor earlier.”
Though senior officials in the Commission said that the proposal to integrate the three phases of polling into one or two phases is technically and logistically impossible, the alarming rate at which Covid cases are mounting in the state is also a cause of worry, both for the political parties and the poll panel.
According to the data released by the state government, the number of new cases in Bengal touched 5,892 on Wednesday, which is the highest single-day spike recorded in the state so far. Capital city Kolkata alone added 1,601 cases to the state’s tally.
On Thursday morning, Congress candidate Rezaul Haque, who was scheduled to contest from the Samsherganj Assembly constituency in Murshidabad district, succumbed to Covid-19 at a private hospital in Kolkata.
Murshidabad is set to go to the polls on April 26 in the seventh phase. The Commission is likely to postpone the polls in Samsherganj owing to the unfortunate demise of the Congress nominee.
Not only that, Trinamool candidate from Goalpokhor in North Dinajpur district, Golam Rabbani, and RSP candidate from Jangipur, Pradip Nandi, have also tested positive for Covid-19. BJP MP Roopa Ganguly had earlier tested positive.
When asked about the developments, an Election Commission official said, “In the next phases, at least 70 per cent to 80 per cent booths are marked as sensitive and, in this condition, we need an adequate deployment of Central forces.
“Presently the number of forces we have in hand is not adequate to be deployed in all the booths of the remaining 114 Assembly constituencies. The force requirement will be around 2,471 companies, but we have only 1,071 companies in hand. We cannot use the entire force for polling only. Though we are not waiving out the concerns of the political parties, but the security factor is also important and we cannot ignore that.”