An election is a festival in Kerala, bigger than any other. For a politically inclined population that takes its democratic rights seriously, it’s an occasion to celebrate. No election is small here and every poll evokes equal passion. But these are difficult times.
The local body poll underway has triggered concerns for obvious reasons. The risks of conducting an election during the pandemic are known. While the decision to go ahead with the electoral process despite the health crisis is justifiable considering that it was necessary to keep the local self-government bodies running, the way it is being carried out deserves critical scrutiny.
The fact is all aspects of this election—from campaigning to voting arrangements to polling—have violated the restrictions in place to deal with Covid-19. While parties and candidates ignored campaigning restrictions, the state election commission and the government failed to ensure adherence to Covid protocols. Parties were even allowed to hold the traditional grand show of strength with massive participation at the culmination of campaigning.
The process of distribution of polling material turned out to be a messy affair where social distancing norms were conveniently ignored. The same happened during voting in the first two phases. So, while the high voter turnout—73% in the first phase and 76% in the second—is being seen in a positive light, it’s also a matter of concern as gathering of large crowds at polling booths without adhering to Covid guidelines created a potentially dangerous situation.
The election is being held at a crucial phase. Once praised for its effective handling of the contagion, Kerala is currently one of the worst affected states in terms of the number of identified infections. Though its daily tally of fresh cases is on the decline, fatalities have risen sharply.
So it is unfortunate that an electoral fight has been allowed to undermine the crucial battle against the virus. The crisis has taught us to keep celebrations low-key. Yet, this celebration of democracy has been turned into a grand show by the stakeholders, ignoring the grim reality of the times we live in.