Waiting for her turn to vote in the violence-hit Titagarh town of West Bengal, Gauri Kumari like everyone else outside a polling booth was wearing masks. Though the town has seen regular gang wars, bomb blasts and political murders ahead of the Assembly elections, her mind is shrouded by the surging Covid-19 pandemic.
“I am not bothered who wins in this election because every political party is the same. My mother Saraswati Devi is above 60 years old. We took her for (Covid) vaccination on April 14, but were told to come back some other day as there was no vaccine. Since then, there has been no communication. There was a shortage of vaccine and only the first 100 people were given the dose,” said Gauri.
“I am here to vote because that’s the only thing I can do,” she added.
In the same queue at Titagarh Municipality polling station, Prashansha Shaw, a first-time voter, was livid.
“Our country is suffering from lack of beds, oxygen, but our Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) attends a conference in Bangladesh and give them vaccines. The violence and anti-social activities here were in my mind a few months ago but not anymore. I feel sad when I read and watch videos of doctors, nurses and healthcare staff who are fighting all alone with the pandemic. This is such a big failure of the government. They chose elections over people’s life,” said Shaw, who is preparing for the medical entrance exam.
Titagarh is at the centre of the 200sq-km Barrackpore industrial belt, which has witnessed clashes of all types — from political to communal — in the last four years.
The town had hit headlines last October when a close aide of local BJP MP Arjun Singh was shot dead by bike-borne assailants. Political violence has become an integral part of Barrackpore politics, and its surroundings which have always been a safe haven for goons and illegal trades. But as the country and West Bengal witness a surge in coronavirus cases and stretching the healthcare system to its breaking point, the pandemic seems to have taken the voters’ mind space here.
At Titagarh Arya Vidyalaya, another polling station, of the 45-odd people standing in the queue for voting, only four had received both the shots of Covid vaccine, while 15 said that they were waiting for the second dose.
“Me, you (media) and all political parties should be held responsible for where we are today. We had started celebrating when there was a visible chance of the coming second wave. Political parties added to the complacency by holding large gatherings without masks. When vaccines were available, even then people were hesitant to take them. I still feel that the shortage of vaccines is not true, and it could be a political game,” said 68-year-old Shiv Kumar Shaw.
“I think no murders, no violence matter to me now. I am worried about my life and the lives of crores of people in our country. We have invited the second wave of the pandemic. There was no need of holding such big rallies this time. We haven’t been able to vaccinate our elderly. Several of them have received only one shot and we have already relaxed the age criterion for vaccination. Covid and the situation we are currently in will definitely be on my mind when I press the button today,” said a young filmmaker, Abhishek Pandey.
In this industrial belt — extending from Baranagar to Kanchrapara – almost all the voters were seen adhering to Covid protocols like wearing masks, using sanitisers and many were even carrying their own hand gloves. However, ensuring social distancing in the voting queue was a challenge for the security personnel.
“Every time, the state government fails, they blame the Central government. The Central government says we did our part but the state government didn’t implement it. Common people have no option and are helpless fighting this pandemic on their own… I think this is the high time we should end this fight between the Centre and the state in Bengal,” said Ritu Shaw, a 48-year-old homemaker in Kanchrapara.
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