A SITTING TMC MLA succumbed to Covid-19 on Saturday, after the death of two West Bengal poll contestants earlier, as the state turned out in large numbers to cast votes for the fifth phase of polling.
While masks and sanitisers were at hand, social distancing was virtually non-existent at booths across the state where more than 78% cast their ballots by 5 pm for 45 constituencies. A CRPF jawan posted at a booth in Barasat constituency in North 24 Parganas said, “Voters are given hand sanitisers and masks if they are not wearing one. But how does one maintain social distancing? There are nine booths here and every booth has a huge line of voters. If we try and maintain social distancing, there will be a law and order problem.”
At a rally in Galsi, East Burdwan, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attacked the Election Commission (EC) for not clubbing the remaining three phases of the ongoing Assembly elections into one, as demanded by the TMC in view of the growing coronavirus numbers. “In the name of Covid restrictions, you are doing whatever the BJP demands,” she said, adding that the curbs on campaigning in the evening were announced “purposely to reduce the number of my campaign meetings”.
Banerjee condoled the death of Congress Samsergunj candidate Rezaul Haque and Revolutionary Socialist Party Jangipur nominee Pradip Kumar Nandi, who tested positive for Covid-19. On Saturday, TMC sitting MLA from Murarai constituency in Birbhum, Abdur Rahman, succumbed to the virus. The party had earlier changed its nominee from the seat after Rahman tested positive.
Because of the deaths of the candidates, the polling for Samsergunj and Jangipur has been put on hold by the EC.
At least four more candidates, three from the TMC and one from the BJP, have tested positive. West Bengal saw another highest single-day spike in new cases, of 7,713, on Saturday, taking the total tally to 6,51,508. In the last 24 hours, 34 people have died, taking the total Covid death toll in the state to 10,540, while 3,426 have recovered.
A day after the EC advised parties to hold small meetings rather than huge rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi marvelled at the size of a gathering he addressed in Asansol in Saturday. Speaking at the rally, he said, “Aaj chaaron taraf… maine aisi sabha pehli baar dekhi hai (Today, on all sides… I have seen such a gathering for the first time)… Till where my eye can reach, I can see only people, nothing else. Kya kamaal kar diya hai aap logon ne (What an achievement by you).”
At a polling booth besides Taki Road in Basarat constituency, Yasmin stood in line with her daughter Nuha Irani, 18, a first-time voter, at 7 am. “We are afraid of Covid, but I have to cast my vote,” Irani said, as mother Yasmin added that they had heard that if they didn’t vote, their names would be struck from the planned National Population Register.
Also in the queue was Netai Ghosh, 85, who survived a cerebral stroke a month ago. His grandson Lakshman (29), who accompanied him, said, “We didn’t know that those above 80 could cast postal vote at home.”
At Panihati constituency, there were complaints of voting being delayed at two booths due to Covid protocols. Said Pallab Bhattacharya, 49, at a polling booth in St. Xavier’s School, “We have been standing for one hour and the queue has not moved.” About social distancing, he said, “It is not followed outside the booth either. Just see any market or shopping complex.”
In Deepshikha area of Kamarhati constituency, polling agents manning booths of the CPM and TMC said they were taking precautions as best as they could. “We are conscious about our health, but we have to do this exercise for our party,” said Shanta Chanda, 58, of the TMC.
At a polling booth in Bidhannagar constituency, which used to be Mamata Banerjee’s seat, Piyali Adak, 20, said she was afraid of coming to the booth. “But I thought if I skip, my voter card will lapse and I will be in trouble.”
TMC Bankura candidate, actress Sayantika Banerjee, who cast her vote with her parents, said, “I am really worried about Covid. After completing the campaign, I quarantined for seven days and only then came home because my parents are in the vulnerable age group.”
In North 24 Parganas, there was a scare after a BJP booth agent, Abhijit Samanta, died after falling sick during early hours of polling. He complained of chest pain and was declared brought dead at hospital.
A few incidents of clashes were reported during the day, with one complaint of firing by the central forces coming from Deganga constituency in North 24 Parganas. The Election Commission said they had enquired and found the claims to be false. The EC received 2,241 complaints in all and 123 people were arrested. An Independent candidate, Kaushik Bhowmik, was arrested in Chakdah with a countrymade firearm.
The highest turnout, of 81.73%, was registered in Jalpaiguri district.