Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Kolkata on March 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Bikas Das)
The coronavirus crisis has worsened in all parts of India, including West Bengal where the assembly elections are underway. The electioneering activities are underway despite the state clocking record-high per-day COVID-19 numbers.
Demands have been raised from several corners to curb or cancel the election rallies - that are drawing huge number of people in violation of the COVID-19 safety norms. The political parties have shown a mixed response to the calls for restricting their respective campaigns.
Here's where the top political parties stand on the issue
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
The BJP has so far refrained from cancelling poll rallies of its top leaders. The party, however, is focusing on maintaining social distancing and ensuring adherence of other COVID-19 protocols at its public meetings.
"You have noticed that sitting arrangements at public meetings are made under strict COVID-19 protocols," The Economic Times quoted BJP's West Bengal general secretary in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya as saying.
Although the BJP is not cancelling the rallies for now, the party is considering to revamp the schedule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's public meetings, the ET report claimed. Instead of his scheduled visits on April 21 and 24, Modi is likely to visit the state only on April 23 to address four rallies - in Malda, Murshidabad, Sewli and South Kolkata, it added.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was scheduled to address election rallies on April 19, told The Indian Express that it would be incorrect to link the fresh surge in COVID-19 cases to the assembly polls in West Bengal.
"Is there an election in Maharashtra? It has 60,000 cases while here (in Bengal) it is 4,000. I care for Maharashtra and I care for Bengal. But linking (Covid surge) with election is not right," he said.
Trinamool Congress (TMC)
The state-ruling TMC has also not decided to cancel the election rallies. The party, however, has asked its candidates to reduce the number of big rallies in view of the health crisis.
Chief Minister and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee said on April 18 that she would be cancelling all her big rallies in Kolkata - the city recording the maximum COVID-19 cases in Bengal.
TMC MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, who is contesting from Kolkata's Bhawanipur constituency, also announced the cancellation of all his campaign rallies.
As per the party's campaign schedule outside Kolkata, Banerjee is expected to hold three rallies and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee is scheduled to speak at four rallies on April 19, FirstPost reported.
Notably, a TMC sitting MLA from Murarai constituency in Birbhum, Abdur Rahman, died due to COVID-19 on April 18. The party had earlier changed its candidate from the seat after he had tested positive.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is also considered as the party's tallest face in the election campaigns, announced on April 18 that he would not be addressing any rally in Bengal in view of the COVID-19 situation.
"In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal. I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances," he tweeted.
In another tweet, Gandhi took an apparent jibe at PM Modi - who told a gathering in Asansol that he had never seen such a huge crowd in the constituency. "This is also the first time we have seen such huge crowds of sick people and those succumbing to the disease," the former Congress chief said, in a tweet in Hindi.
Other Congress leaders would continue the electioneering activities. The party, however, has asked them to refrain from holding big rallies.
Communist Party of India (Marxist)
The CPI(M), which leads the Left Front-Congress coalition in the state, was the first to announce the cancellation of large poll rallies in view of the health crisis. The party had, on April 14, said it would be focusing only on social media campaigns and door-to-door interaction with voters.
Party chief Sitaram Yechury slammed Shah for stating that the COVID-19 surge should not be linked to the polls.
"We announced earlier that we will not hold large public rallies in Bengal. Congress too has announced it. But this BJP leader, who is also the Home Minister, spouts ridiculous, unscientific nonsense about COVID. Are his and Modi’s rallies more important than Indian lives?" Yechury tweeted on April 19.
Second wave in Bengal
The state has been consecutively reporting a fresh high in the per-day COVID-19 infections. As per the last update issued on April 18, a total of 8,419 new cases were reported - highest since the onset of pandemic.
"There are 49,638 active COVID-19 cases in West Bengal, while with 28 new deaths, the death toll in the state has gone up to 10,568," the health department said.
Across India, the tally of active infections has surpassed 17 lakh, with more than 2.7 lakh new cases being reported on April 19.