COVID resurgence : Cong demands postponement of Pipili by-poll

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Bhubaneswar, Apr 27 (PTI) Opposition Congress Tuesday demanded postponement of the May 16 by-poll in Pipili assembly seat in Odisha in the wake of the resurgence of COVID-19 pandemic across the country.

A delegation of the Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee led by its working vice-president Pradeep Majhi submitted a memorandum at the office of the state chief electoral officer addressed to the Election Commission.

'We are optimistic that our appeal will be heard and the polling to be postponed, Majhi told reporters.

The Congress leader said that allowing polling on May 16 is as good as putting the lives of the people in danger as health experts have warned that the COVID-19 infection will reach its peak in the second week of May.

The leaders are becoming super spreaders (of coronavirus) as they reach out to the masses. Therefore the campaign is now restricted. What is wrong if we put polling on hold till the situation becomes normal? Majhi said.

Congress has already lost one of its candidates - Ajit Mangaraj to COVID-19 on April 14 leading to the deferment of the polling date to May 16.

When the COVID-19 situation in Odisha has assumed alarming proportions, why is the Election Commission determined to conduct the by-poll? Are the votes so important for the Election Commission? We demand that the by-poll be postponed till the pandemic is brought under control, Majhi said at a press conference here.

Besides, it is not possible for any party to campaign in Pipili as the people of the constituency block roads to their villages to prevent political leaders from canvassing.

'Under such circumstances, how will the political parties campaign for their candidates? Majhi asked.

He also appealed to the ruling BJD and opposition BJP to make similar demands to the EC in the larger interest of public health. 'You see the situation of West Bengal where elections are being held. It is better for the lives of 4.5 crore people of the state to refrain from any kind of election for now, he said.

BJD vice-president Debi Prasad Mishra said as the EC as a statutory body has decided to conduct the by-poll under the Representation of Peoples Act of the Constitution and neither BJD nor the state government has anything to say about it.

The BJD is not campaigning as per the direction of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, he added.

State BJP leader Prithviraj Harichandan said if the political parties strictly follow the COVID-19 appropriate behaviour while campaigning, the by-poll will be held without any problem and will set a precedent for the ensuing elections in the neighbouring states.

The demand to defer the Pipili by-poll is a 'political gimmick' of the Congress, he asserted.

Majhi rejected Harichandans charge and said that there is no politics behind the Congress demand. Peoples lives are important, not elections, he added.

The EC has totally banned election meetings and rallies. It has allowed only five persons including the party candidate, to conduct door-to-door campaigns.

This is being resisted by the people who are not willing to allow outsiders into their villages and houses.

COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of two leaders in Pipili. While Pipili MLA Pradeep Maharathy died of the infection in October, 2020 leading to the by-election, Congress candidate Ajit Mangaraj too succumbed to coronavirus on April 14 in the middle of campaigning. The by-poll which was slated for April 17 was then rescheduled to May 16. PTI AAM KK KK KK