Candidates and star campaigners can be banned from holding campaign rallies if COVID-19 safety rules are not followed, the Election Commission said in a fresh warning on Friday, three days after voting ended in four of the five states where the polls have seen widespread disregard for the pandemic.
“Instances of election meetings/campaigns have come to the notice of the Commission, where norms of social distancing, wearing of masks etc. have been flouted in disregard to the Commission’s […] guidelines. Instances of star campaigners/political leaders/candidates not observing COVID protocols including non-wearing of masks themselves at stage or while campaigning have come to notice. By doing so, the political parties and candidates are exposing themselves as well as the public attending such election meetings to the grave danger of infection,” the Election Commission said in a notice.
“The Commission, in cases of breach, will not hesitate in banning public meetings, rallies etc. of the defaulting candidates/star campaigners/political leaders without any further reference,” it said.
India’s COVID-19 cases have soared 13-fold in barely two months, a vicious second wave propelled by an open disregard for safety protocols in much of the vast country. The country reported another record number of new COVID-19 infections on Friday and daily deaths hit their highest in more than five months, as it battles a second wave of infections and states complain of a persistent vaccine shortage.
Election rallies led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and opposition leaders like Mamata Banerjee and Rahul Gandhi, as well as crowded festivals and religious gatherings, have characterised the record resurgence of the new coronavirus.
The second surge has already been faster than the first, which peaked in September last year with 97,000 cases a day. On Friday, India reported 1,31,968 new infections and 780 deaths – the biggest daily increase in fatalities since mid-October.
India’s overall caseload has swelled to 1.3 crore – the third-highest after the United States and Brazil – and total deaths to 1,67,642. India’s total number of infections has inched closer to Brazil’s 1.32 crore.
The government blames the resurgence mainly on crowding and a reluctance to wear masks as businesses had nearly fully reopened since February, only to be partially shut down again as case have galloped.
An increasing number of states are imposing local curbs, including night curfews in mega-cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.
The centre has been largely silent on political leaders including the Prime Minister greeting lakhs of supporters, most of them not wearing masks, even this week despite the record surge in cases. With voting on Tuesday, elections have ended in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. West Bengal has five more rounds left ahead of results on May 2.
(With inputs from agencies)