Until a few days ago, Covid-19 was not an issue during election rallies in West Bengal. However, as cases rose, amid a fierce campaigning battle, the pandemic made an entry into the political discourse.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee took up the issue of the severe surge in Covid-19 cases and made it central to her rallies after the Bharatiya Janata Party, based on an unauthenticated leaked phone call, accused the TMC of instigating “violence” in Sitalkuchi killings amid other allegations of cut money and corruption.
As the second wave of Covid-19 began to rage in Bengal and across the country, CM Banerjee hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Union government for “mismanagement” and “incompetence”.
Banerjee has accused the Modi government of “not doing enough”. In a letter to PM Modi, she mentioned that she had asked the Centre to give the states more freedom with matters of vaccination and critical drugs.
In fact, the ruling Trinamool Congress had also submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission, urging to club together the last few phases of the elections given the circumstances and curtail rallies that are crowd pullers to check the Covid-19 spread. The demand was rejected by both the EC and the BJP. However, it is now being considered.
The last few phases of the Bengal assembly elections are critical for both the BJP and the TMC. Especially for the latter.
The remaining seats in Kolkata, where voters are more aware than in hinterlands, will go to polls in the last three phases. The sudden spurt in Covid-19 cases in Delhi, Maharashtra and other states had a positive impact in Kolkata as people began to mask up.
Jyoti, a student of Kolkata’s Presidency College, while purchasing books in iconic College Street, said, “We should have been more prepared. Our politicial leaders must realise that Bengal is no better and all must mask up. I have begun to.”
Sujoy Haldar, owner of Ajanta Chemicals in Ballygunge, said, “Over the past few days, I have seen people suddenly coming and asking for N95 masks and santisers. Good.”
In Bengal, there is a belief that whoever wins Kolkata, wins the state. Therefore, with Kolkata going to polls, the TMC is looking to gain out the Covid-19 issu. Not just the TMC, but even the Congress, which has sizeable influence in the constituencies like Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur, too, has made the pandemic their electoral plank.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who tested positive on Tuesday, cancelled all his rallies last week and has been most vocal in criticising the government on COVID-19. “Voters in the 6th round of polling in Bengal have great opportunity to speak for the entire country,” P Chidambaram had said in a tweet.
However, the BJP has refused to take the blame. It has criticised CM Banerjee for “politicising” the pandemic as “she was not prepared herself”.
The saffron party has slammed Banerjee for “lack of hospitals”, “health infrastructure” and “modern facilities” in the state, especially rural Bengal, which has resultantly “cramped up” hospitals in Kolkata.
PM Modi has time and again hit out at Banerjee for refusing to adopt the Centre’s health scheme of Ayushman Bharat. At a rally, he said “She hates me so much that she doesn’t even care for the people of Bengal. She has refused to be a part of this scheme, which is for the people.”
CM Banerjee and TMC supremo retorted saying that the Bengal government already has a similar health scheme under the name “Swastha Saathi”.
The Centre has stepped in with many steps to control the situation after several states pleaded for help for weeks. One of the measures that the Centre has taken is to grant more autonomy to states to plan their fight.
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