India's West Bengal goes ahead with state election amid record surge of Covid-19 cases

Large rallies held in the state have been blamed for the explosion of cases.

Matthias Ang | April 30, 2021, 01:15 PM

Millions of people in the Indian state of West Bengal headed to the polls on Apr. 29 to vote in the state's elections, amidst a new record of 379,257 cases of Covid-19, The Guardian and BBC reported.

As such, there have been concerns about West Bengal becoming the next epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak, given that long queues were reported outside polling stations.

In some instances, little social distancing was observed.

Election marked by highest surge of Covid-19 states for an Indian state

The course of the election has since been marked by the highest surge of Covid-19 cases for any Indian state.

According to Indian media The Scrollthe state elections were conducted in eight phases over a period of 34 days -- the longest the country has seen -- with Apr. 29 marking the final phase.

Just before the first phase of the election, West Bengal reported 3,380 active cases of Covid-19 on Mar. 20.

However, as of Apr. 26, when the election reached its seventh phase, the state had reported 94,949 active Covid-19 cases, which was a 28-fold increase. The number of new daily cases had increased by 40 times as well, from 383 to 15,992.

Large rallies blamed

Criticism has been mounting over Modi's decision to hold rallies in the state, with a lack of social distancing and wearing of masks among attendees.


Blaming the election for the spread of Covid-19, the convener of the West Bengal Doctors’ Forum, Punyabrata Goon, said:

"There is no doubt that the election process led to the spread of corona in West Bengal. Till February and March, Bengal had the disease under control.

But as campaigning started with large crowds and people coming in from affected states, cases started shooting up."

He also highlighted that the Electoral Commission did not take action when cases began to rise, with letters from the Forum in March being ignored.

West Bengal is one of the few states in India where the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), does not hold a majority.

Modi's party takes responsibility for outbreak but says situation could not be foreseen

In the meantime, a spokesperson for the BJP, Narendra Taneja, has said that the government is responsible for the surge in Covid-19 cases, CNN reported.

Taneja said:

"We are in power, we are the government in India so of course responsibility is first and foremost ours, good or bad, whatever it is. It is our responsibility and we're trying our very level best."

However, he also highlighted that the current situation could not have been foreseen and added:

"Evidently something went wrong, evidently we were hit by a tsunami, and as you know, you're often not aware. In most cases 80-90 per cent reasons could be external.

We don't know. We don't want to blame anybody. We know we're in power, we are responsible.. our focus is now on how we can save lives."

When asked about the decision to hold rallies in West Bengal, Taneja said that the BJP had no choice but to go along with the Electoral Commission's decision on when polls should be held.

However, India Today reported that on Apr. 16, it was the BJP which had requested the Electoral Commission to hold the state's election as scheduled.

The request came after the current ruling party of West Bengal, Trinamool Congress, requested for the final three phases of the election to be merged together to reduce Covid-19 exposure.

The Electoral Commission subsequently went with the BJP's suggestion on the grounds that the request by the Trinamool Congress could not be implemented.

Top image via Narendra Modi/YouTube