Updated: May 1, 2021 8:04:24 am
Two days before the results of its Assembly by-poll, Madhya Pradesh’s Damoh is reeling under the burden of Covid-19 cases that spiked manifold during and after a high-pitched election campaign.
Electioneering in Damoh began from the end of last month, soon after nominations were filed, and continued till April 15. In that time, the biggest political names of the state—Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajya Sabha MP Jyotriaditya Scindia, former Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and state Congress chief Kamal Nath—descended upon the constituency to hold rallies, roadshows and Janata Sabhas.
Amid the campaigning,daily new cases in Damoh kept rising—11 on April 1, 36 on April 11, 54 on April 13, and 128 just three days later.
All this was happening as cases soared in the rest of the state, with a lockdown being imposed in urban areas. Damoh, however, was left out of this lockdown, thanks to the by-poll necessitated by the resignation of Congress MLA Rahul Lodhi who joined BJP in October.
It was only on April 19—two days after voting—that the lockdown came into effect here. By April 29, the district had recorded its highest single-day jump in new cases—129.
The results will be announced on May 2.
Chief Minister Chouhan held public gatherings in Damoh on three occasions. Rajya Sabha MP Scindia addressed two rallies during a single-day programme. Digvijay Singh had a two-day programme, while Nath held one roadshow.
On April 16, Digvijay Singh tweeted that he had tested positive. He quarantined himself in his Delhi residence.
Chouhan and Scindia cancelled their roadshows planned for April 15. This was also the day Congress candidate Ajay Tandon tested positive. The rest of the campaigning was conducted by Tandon’s daughter, who also accompanied Nath during his roadshow.
On polling day—April 17—Covid fear had set in. Damoh saw a voter turnout of 59.6 per cent—15 percentage points lower than the Assembly poll turnout in 2018.
Congress state Mahila Morcha chief Mandvi Chouhan, who was said to have been laying the groundwork for the party in the poll run-up, fell to the virus on Thursday.
According to her son, Vikran Chouhan, she had returned with a fever which later turned out to be COVID by nearly 75 percent damage to her lungs. “She had returned with a fever from her stay in Damoh had walked to the hospital herself but she never came out of it alive. We tried out best with all help from all senior leaders looking after her directly and ensuring she gets the best treatment but it feels there is nothing that can save you from his virus,” said Vikram Chouhan.
State Urban development minister Bhupendra Singh, who was closely monitoring the Damoh by-polls, tested positive last week. He tweeted that he had tested negative four days later on Thursday owing to the second dose of vaccine that he had taken in time. Among other BJP’s leaders who carried out extensive campaigning and turned positive during the campaign and had to return included Archana Singh, BJP councillor from Chhatarpur, Shayam Tiwari from Sagar, Digvijay Tripathi and Panna district president Ram Chourasia.
Former Damoh district president, Dev Narayan Shrivastav also died on Thursday after suffering a brain hemorrhage for which he was being treated at Jabalpur where he also tested positive for COVID. However, according to Damoh district president for BJP, Pritam Lodhi, “Shrivastav who was tasked with co-ordination between the party workers did not go much of the field except while attending sabhas of senior leaders and he had tested positive much after the election campaign concluded on April 17.”
Other leaders from the Congress party including president of District Congress Committee, Manu Mishra who was pivotal in mobilizing resourcing in the district for the election. Mishra had tested positive on April 3 and subsequently, did not attend any gathering held by senior Congress leaders such as Digvijay Singh, Jitu Patwari and MLA Jaivardhan Singh. Mishra was hospitalized along with his wife and son.
“I was asked by the collector if I would sit during the counting and I refused. My body does not have the stamina to sit through the counting process besides there is a lot of crowding and I don’t know, if I want to expose myself again to the risk of contracting the virus,” said Mishra.
Asks Kamaljeet Hurra, who runs a hardware store in Damoh: “These people call themselves ‘jan pratinidhi’ but they are working for only themselves. Couldn’t these by-polls be delayed? Is there no rule in the election commission’s rule book for such an unprecedented situation?”
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