Even as the stage is set for counting on May 2, the pre-election tempo that had reached a crescendo in March and the first week of April in Tamil Nadu has now given way to anger and anxiety as Covid cases have been rising in the state during the past fortnight. This was reflected in the Madras High Court’s attack on the Election Commission, when it asked whether the poll panel “was on another planet when rallies were held”. The Bench even said, “You (The EC) should be put up on murder charges probably for being the only institution responsible for the situation that we are in today.” It even threatened to stop counting if a blueprint on the way forward was not given. These observations came four days after the Calcutta High Court censured the EC for the same reason.
After being named and shamed by the judiciary, the red-faced EC tried to save face by banning all victory rallies after election results for four states and a Union Territory are announced. Whether the poll panel can take action after the verdict is out is a moot point. But at least the other new guidelines issued by the EC on Wednesday, including making a negative Covid report or full vaccination compulsory for candidates to enter counting halls, banning public gatherings outside the counting venues, and PPE kits for agents and candidates, are enforceable and welcome.
Meanwhile, the wife of a Trinamool candidate who died of Covid has filed a case seeking action against top EC officials for culpable homicide. But it must be kept in mind that while the poll panel was to oversee the conduct of rallies by candidates, including ensuring that they followed the model code of conduct, the political parties have to share the blame for the current situation. The fact is none followed Covid protocols during the entire election process, which included mass rallies and maskless rallyists. The result is there for all to see. Whether enforceable by the EC or not, political parties should follow the new guidelines on counting day and make sure that the Covid crisis does not worsen.