The ban on rallies and roadshows ahead of elections in five states – imposed last week as Covid cases spike alarmingly – has been extended till January 22, the Election Commission said Saturday.
Indoor political meetings will be allowed subject to a cap of 300 people, 50 per cent of the hall’s capacity, or the limit set by the state’s disaster management authority. Political parties must bear responsibility for the enforcement of rules, which include social distancing and use of face masks.
On January 8 the top poll body had said rallies, roadshows, and other kinds of political events, indoors and outdoors, would be banned till January 15 (today), and that the order would then be reviewed.
Today the Election Commission held a series of meetings – with the Union Health Secretary at 11 am, Chief and Health Secretaries of all poll-bound states at noon, and Chief Election Officers at 1 pm.
The order banning rallies and roadshows was passed as part of a 16-point list aimed at holding polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Manipur as safely as possible.
Included in that list of ‘no-no’ activities were the holding of nukkad sabhas, or roadside meets, and limiting the number of people for door-to-door campaigning.
Yesterday, however, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party came under the poll body’s scanner after massive crowds gathered for the induction of two ex-BJP ministers – Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini, as well as six other MLAs.
Videos showed hundreds gathered – a majority wore no masks and did not maintain social distance.
UP Police have filed a FIR against 2,500 individuals; a senior Lucknow district officer told PTI “prima facie, there was violation… investigations are underway”. A notice was pasted at the party office.
Today Mr Yadav said: “I appeal to (all) to abide by Covid protocols when they come to (our) office.”
Elections in UP, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand are being held amid a frightening surge in Covid cases across the country, including in some of the poll-bound states.
UP reported a massive 1,300 per cent increase in Covid infections in the first week of this month, while 16 of Punjab’s 22 districts have positivity rates over five per cent, which is the danger level.
UP has seen its active caseload spike to nearly 90,000, while Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand have seen their active cases increase to over 60,000 between them.
Medical experts and civil society groups, as well as the Allahabad High Court had called for polls to be deferred, but the poll body said it was constitutionally bound hold elections in a “timely” manner.
Elections were held in Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry this time last year, where many were without face masks as they attended rallies led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and other political leaders, where social distancing was absent.
That was just before the devastating second wave hit India.
With memories of that in mind, concerns had been raised that campaign events could once again become super-spreaders, particularly with the Omicron variant now driving infections.
The first phase of Assembly elections this year will begin on February 10 and continue till March 7, with all five results due on March 10.
This morning India reported over 2.68 lakh new Covid cases in 24 hours, taking the active caseload to over 14 lakh – a level not breached since June 1.
With input from PTI