No public rallies, foot marches or roadshows can be held in Bengal for the last two rounds of the assembly elections, the Election Commission said this evening — hours after it was ordered to take action in view of the rising Covid cases by the Calcutta High Court. All previous orders for rallies and roadshows stand cancelled and only meetings that are attended by no more than 500 people, will be allowed, the Commission said.
Amid concerns that poll rallies might become super-spreader events, the court while hearing appeals for intervention, sought an action taken report from the Commission tomorrow. The judges said if the Commission fails to take action, they will do the needful.
In its order, the Commission said it had noted “with anguish” that many political parties/candidates are still not adhering to the prescribed safety norms during public gatherings, which made this measure necessary.
Yesterday, the Commission had turned down appeals from Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and Congress’s Adir Choudhury to club together the remaining three phases of elections in view of the rising Covid cases. In its order it said it has already issued safety norms for Covid, cut down on daily campaign hours and extended the “period of silence” — stopping of campaign before polls — from 48 to 72 to 72 hours.
During the hearing today, , the court was harsh on the Commission, observing that it was just “passing circulars and leaving it to the people” to adhere when it has the “implementing authority”.
Invoking former Election Commissioner TN Seshan — known for his fierce adherence to the Model Code of Conduct that forced political parties to fall in line, ushering in groundbreaking electoral reforms — the court said the Commission “is not doing one-tenth of what TN Seshan had done”.