April 23, 2021 1:40:58 am
WITH ITS load of active cases at more than 68,000, a record daily high on Thursday, and a new Covid-19 mutant traced to the state, West Bengal’s election process dragged on Thursday for the two remaining phases, with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee holding four public meetings and Union Home Minister Amit Shah one rally before cancelling the next two at the last minute.
Banerjee had earlier said she would hold only small meetings, and make shorter speeches, while urging the Election Commission to club the remaining phases in view of Covid-19. The BJP, which was the last major party to tone down its Bengal campaign following criticism over its huge meetings, appeared to be rolling back swiftly. While Shah cancelled his meetings, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that he would not be addressing his four public meetings on Friday (the last day of campaign for the next phase on April 26), in order to chair a meeting on the Covid-19 situation.
“Tomorrow, will be chairing high-level meetings to review the prevailing COVID-19 situation. Due to that, I would not be going to West Bengal,” Modi tweeted. The PM will instead deliver a virtual address.
There were around 5,000 people at each of Banerjee’s four rallies — at Tapan in Dakshin Dinajpur; Asansol in West Burdwan; and Habibpur and Ratua in Malda districts. Masks were worn by few, with the numbers making social distancing virtually impossible.
Shah’s sole public meeting, in Dakshin Dinajpur, had at least double the BJP’s promised limit of 500 for such meetings. Again masks were rare.
Speaking at Tapan, the TMC supremo announced that the state government will provide Covid-19 vaccine free to every person in the state above the age of 18 starting May 5. Under the next phase of immunisation, all 18-plus are eligible, and states can procure vaccines from the open market. The CM also repeated her criticism of the Centre’s pricing policy for Covid 19. “One nation, one party, one leader shouts BJP all the time but to save lives they can’t have one price for vaccine. Every Indian needs free vaccine, regardless of age, caste, creed, location. GoI must fix ONE price for Covid vaccine irrespective of who pays — Centre or the States,” she tweeted.
Banerjee also shot off a letter to the PM, saying the Centre’s vaccination strategy was biased in favour of the market and against the interests of people. “I wish to invite your kind personal attention to the recently announced GoI policy on liberalised and accelerated COVID-19 vaccination with Phase 3 from May 1. I am afraid this is highly discriminatory and anti-people… There is no place for making business by the vaccine manufacturers and instead efforts should be directed towards good of people without discrimination. And also fixing the rate for private hospitals at Rs 600 per dose is not only discriminatory but also unhealthy as it is likely to trigger unscrupulous mechanisms in the market,” she added.
In his speech, Shah again expressed confidence that the BJP would win Bengal. “We will increase our tally in the next two phases of polling,” he said, accusing the TMC government of corruption, appeasement politics and violence.
The seventh phase of voting will take place on April 26 in Malda, Murshidabad, West Burdwan, Birbhum and Kolkata.
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