Assembly Election Dates Announced By The ECI: Step Aside, Omicron!



The Election Commission of India (ECI) has today, a day when the country logged 1,41,986 new COVID-19 cases, announced the dates for assembly elections in 5 states of India, Uttar Pradesh (UP), Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa, starting from February 10, 2022. The polling in all five states will be completed between 10th February and 7th March in seven phases while the counting is to take place on 10th March for all five states. UP election will be spread over all the seven phases till 7th March; Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa will have single phase polls on 14th February; and Manipur will have two-phase polling due to security concerns in the state on 27th February and March 3, 2022. More than 180 million citizens are set to exercise their voting rights during this what is often referred as festival of democracy.

 

The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), Sushil Chandra, assured while addressing a press conference in the national capital Delhi that the elections would be fully COVID-19 safe for all stakeholders—the authorities, the polling officials and the voters. He said that the ECI has held consultations with the concerned authorities in all the states taking stock of the situation and asked them to ramp up vaccination to have all the voters fully vaccinated by next month.  The polling officials will be given the double doses and the booster dose too as far as possible. The voting hours have also been increased by an hour.

 

The CEC further said that the number of polling stations and booths has been jacked up for easy and safe polling with the number of voters per polling booth being reduced from 1500 to 1250. All COVID appropriate measures will be enforced in all polling stations with masks, sanitizers made available there, he added. Asked about the exponential Omicron spread across the country Chandra quickly pointed out that elections are not taking place in the worst affected states like Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi. However, he assured, that the ECI will keep on monitoring the situations in all the poll-bound states and adopt measures as necessary.

 

The biggest positive point about the ECI briefing is that all political rallies, roadshows and processions of any sort are banned till January 15, 2022, after which the Commission would review the situation for further action, and that there shall be no victory marches after counting. The normal regulation declared during the assembly elections amid the second wave last year will continue which is that there will no rallies or gatherings of any kind from 8 pm to 8 am daily till the end of the poll schedule. Secondly, the 80+ senior citizens and COVID positive patients can vote through the postal ballots from their homes where the ECI teams would supervise. The logistics for this operation could become unmanageable depending on the situation of active cases in the concerned states. Thirdly, candidates from all parties will have to declare their criminal records publicly on newspapers and news channels and their respective political parties would require to furnish reasons to the ECI as to why tickets are given to such candidates. If implemented without government interference this may result in a most positive development to a persistent issue.

 

Another provision could’ve been a positive takeaway had the ECI made it mandatory to file nominations online. But unfortunately, the ECI has made this mode of filing nomination only optional. The CEC Sushil Chandra also said that any delay in holding the elections would’ve been undemocratic. Well, the love for democracy in our country is becoming quite selective nowadays. During the elections held last year amid the raging second wave when the vaccination was not at all adequate, a large number of polling officials and other frontline officials succumbed to COVID-19 infections. Perhaps, they all sacrificed their lives for this love for democracy. Nevertheless, this time the ECI has shown some promising moves and it’d all depend on how much guts it has to implement all these.

 

About the Omicron-led COVID-19 situation in the country it seems certain now that all the governments/authorities have accepted gratefully that Omicron is a mild virus and cannot cause any medical needs in the fully vaccinated citizens. Many states have pointed out that most medical admissions, that too not serious, have been of that of the unvaccinated while some cities boast that there has not been a single ICU case. Well, with the hospital beds still empty, medical oxygen in full supply and jabs in full swing plus booster doses already starting, they can legitimately be complacent and boast. 


No wonder, the sate of Maharashtra that registered more than 40,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, is still sitting pretty and contented. We fervently hope that they are indeed doing the right thing and that the Omicron scare disappear soon and the warnings of the supreme health authority, WHO, prove totally unwarranted. In any case, why to blame the elections only while religious festivals like the Ganga Sagar Mela in West Bengal being allowed where millions of devotees across the country are taking holy dips, like they did during the Kumbh Mela last year in the peak of the second wave.

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