INDIA: For India, politics is perennial and political rallies have always been a pompous activity. The famous saying, “The show must go on” is true for politics in India. However, in times of COVID-19, should it really?
Review of the present status
The Election Commission of India (ECI) on January 15 extended the ban on physical political rallies & roadshows in the five poll-bound states till January 22.
Earlier the ban was put till January 15 which was extended after reviewing the situation. The move came after taking account of the worrying surge in COVID-19 cases across India. It also introduced ‘campaign curfew’ from 8 pm to 8 am for the campaign duration. The election watchdog urged all political parties and candidates to conduct virtual campaigns as far as possible.
However, the ECI has granted relaxation for the parties to hold indoor meetings of a maximum of 300 people or 50% of the capacity of the hall or stick to the prescribed limit set by state disaster management authorities.
Additionally, to aid the contactless campaign, the ECI along with Prasar Bharti Corporation doubled the broadcast or telecast time allotted to each national party and recognized state party of the poll going states.
Political rallies amid COVID-19 pandemic
Rallies are a gigantic and engaging stir in India. Huge gatherings of people, party workers, keynote party speakers & representatives make these rallies worth grabbing the media attention.
However, when the whole world is going through a health crisis, callousness should be the last thing we consciously go for. The election rallies have contributed in accelerating the growth rate of average daily cases. This in turn has resulted in overwhelming the healthcare system.
A study conducted by Deepankar Basu, an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, for The Wire in 2021 showed the “difference in the trajectories of the COVID-19 outbreak in the Election and Non-Election States lined up with the timing of the election process and provides evidence that election rallies contributed, at least in part, to the rapid rise in cases in many states in India”.
On the same lines, it is not surprising to see that various official events this year turned into an opportunity for a political campaign, especially by those already in power.
For instance, PM Narendra Modi, earlier in January laid the foundation for the Major Dhyan Chand Sports University in Meerut that saw a huge turnout of a mostly mask-less crowd. The thin line, thin due to the concerning pandemic, between a function and political rally, was seen going blur.
It is a no-brainer that mask and physical distancing are the prerequisites for an airborne disease like COVID-19, topped with the latest variant of concern- Omicron. This must bring humankind to the verdict borne out of collective conscience that large gatherings, irrespective of the reason, and that too without COVID-appropriate behavior are a threat to everyone.