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After a month, curtains on campaign with ‘virtual’ rallies in West Bengal

In the last few days, amid a rapid increase in Covid-19 infections, political leaders addressed virtual rallies and press conferences as the Election Commission (EC) imposed curbs on the number of participants at each meeting.

Written by Santanu Chowdhury | Kolkata |
April 27, 2021 5:22:49 am
West bengal elections virtual election ralliesThe last round of voting is on April 29, and results will be declared on May 2.

Campaigning for the eight-phase West Bengal Assembly election, which began on March 27, ended on Monday with virtual rallies and meetings even as the seventh phase of polling was held. The last round of voting is on April 29, and results will be declared on May 2.

Since the poll notification was issued on February 26, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held 19 rallies in the state, including a virtual public meeting on April 23. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda each addressed over 30 rallies in the state. For the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was the star campaigner, addressing more than 100 election rallies.

In the last few days, amid a rapid increase in Covid-19 infections, political leaders addressed virtual rallies and press conferences as the Election Commission (EC) imposed curbs on the number of participants at each meeting. On Monday, Nadda held virtual rallies for voters in Malda, Birbhum and Kolkata, while Mamata Banerjee addressed a virtual meeting of TMC workers in North Kolkata attended by party candidates and other functionaries.

“We maintained the guidelines laid down by the EC in holding the virtual rallies. We appealed to the people to maintain social distancing norms,” claimed state BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya, who was the party’s candidate from the Rajarhat-Gopalpur seat that went to the polls on April 17.

However, in several places, the BJP’s public events exceeded the 500-people limit imposed by the poll panel. Last week, the EC directed the Malda district magistrate to file an FIR against the party after a huge crowd was spotted at a rally attended by actor Mithun Chakrabarty, who joined the saffron party before the polls.

“There is tremendous enthusiasm among the people to come out and listen to our leaders. We cannot ask everyone to go back or beat them up with sticks,” Bhattacharya reasoned.

After the fourth phase on April 10, the CPI(M) became the first party to announce it would not hold big election rallies. The Left’s alliance partner Congress soon followed and cancelled all big rallies, taking a cue from its former president Rahul Gandhi.

The TMC decided not to hold large public gatherings addressed by Mamata Banerjee after the fifth phase of polling on April 17. To reach out to voters, the TMC chief started addressing press conferences with party candidates. She held five press conferences from auditoriums in the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, Paschim Bardhaman, Birbhum and Kolkata. Only a handful of party workers were allowed to attend the events, which were telecast across the state.

“We have been asking the EC to club the remaining phases. They did not pay heed. Hence, we decided to change our campaign strategy to stop huge gathering,” said TMC MP Saugata Roy.

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