No masks, crowded rallies: Precautions go for a toss at Telangana municipal campaigns

·4-min read
No masks, crowded rallies: Precautions go for a toss at Telangana municipal campaigns

The state of Telangana reported 10,122 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and it was the fifth consecutive day where the state saw over 6,000 cases in 24 hours. At such a time, when the health mechanism is grappling with the crisis, political parties in the state are contributing to the swelling number of cases by holding election campaign rallies and road shows.

The Telangana State Election Commission has decided to hold elections for as many as five municipalities and two major municipal corporations on April 30. The SEC directed the candidates and parties to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines during the elections by restricting their campaign period.

However, at these gatherings, the violation of protocols and lack of physical distancing is very visible on the campaign trails of the TRS as well as the BJP. State Minister for Health Eatala Rajender held a political campaign in Warangal while Finance Minister Harish Rao is campaigning at Siddipet. Errabelli Dayakar Rao and Minister Puvvada Ajay Kumar were also seen participating in the road shows.

Very visibly, most of the people in the crowds at public rallies and road shows are coming in close contact with others, and most of them are not wearing masks. For the municipal polls,  the BJP roped in Kishan Reddy, the Union Minister for Home Affairs, Telangana BJP Chief Bandi Sanjay, state in-charge Tarun Chugh, DK Aruna and MLA Raghunandan Rao, who are currently holding rallies and are campaigning. The BJP’s rallies are no exception, and COVID-19 protocol is violated in these events as well. Earlier this week, in Achampet municipality, during Tarun Chugh’s campaign, TRS and BJP cadres even got into a physical confrontation.

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The Congress, CPI and CPI(M) too are campaigning in a similar way in their respective strongholds, either through rallies or through door-to-door campaigns. Though opposition parties, including the BJP and the Congress initially opposed the elections, with the SEC deciding to hold the elections anyway, the parties have decided to campaign.

Congress leader and official spokesperson Dr Dasoju Sravan Kumar said, "From the beginning, we have demanded the postponement of municipal elections given the situation of COVID-19. The SEC should answer the need for hasty conducting of municipal elections when there is six more months time."

Dr Dasoju alleged that the SEC has failed in discharging its constitutional duties. Earlier this week, a group of activists and intellectuals had urged the state government to ask the State Election Commission to postpone the elections for six months in view of the COVID-19 situation.

Padmanabha Reddy from the Forum For Good Governance said that it is utterly irresponsible that elections are being held amid the pandemic. He said, "The state government seems to have amended Article 242 to take control over the SEC. The SEC has lost its relevance as an independent body.

It is doing a mindless job, going ahead and allowing elections despite what happened during Nagarjuna Sagar bye-election, where many people including an MLA candidate and the Chief Minister himself tested positive after campaigning, is unwise.”

He further added, "Parties are campaigning irresponsibly despite seeing the crisis around them. They are going ahead with their campaign with an ultimate aim of winning."

As per the latest bulletin, Warangal Urban reported 653 cases in the last 24 hours while Khammam witnessed 424 cases; Nagarkurnool, which Atchampet falls under, reported 257 cases; Siddipet reported 230 cases and Nalgonda, which is where Nakrekal municipality falls, reported 469 cases.Mahboobnagar, which is where Jadcherla municipality is located, reported 417 cases and Rangareddy, which Kothur municipality falls under, has reported 621 cases.

Indian Medical Association (IMA) Telangana state vice president Dr Sanjeev Singh Yadav has said that holding elections at this point in time is unnecessary. He said, "It is clear from the past experiences that the virus spreads when there are huge gatherings and a breach of COVID-19 protocols."

He added, "The state government is saying the cases are increasing because people are coming from other states. However, knowing this, and when there are more than 5,000 cases every day, I do not think it is the right time to conduct any election. It will be a big problem for the people of Telangana who are already suffering because of issues in the existing health care system."

Dr Sanjeev further added that elections must not be held at any cost, and said that the court should intervene.  

Meanwhile, the Madras High Court on Monday pulled up the Election Commission of India for allowing political rallies even as the country is battling a deadly second wave of COVID-19. Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee said that the Election Commission is singularly responsible for the second wave in the country and remarked that officers of the poll panel should probably be booked for murder.

Following the rap from the HC, the Election Commission on April 27 issued an order banning victory celebrations on May 2, which is when poll results of five Assembly Elections and some bye-elections will be announced.