The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday announced that it will limit attendance at its leaders' public rallies for the West Bengal Assembly election to 500 people. The party in its press release said this move comes in view of the rise in COVID-19 cases.
This comes just a day after Union home minister Amit Shah in an interview with The Indian Express said that there was no link between the COVID-19 surge and election rallies.
"Is there an election in Maharashtra? It has 60,000 cases while here (in Bengal) it is 4,000. I care for Maharashtra and I care for Bengal. But linking (COVID-19 surge) with election is not right. Which are the states where elections took place? And those that didn't have any election have witnessed the surge. How do you explain that?" he said in the interview.
However, the BJP, in the press release on Monday, said, "It has been decided that only small public meetings, with not more than 500 people, will be held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Central ministers in West Bengal. All these public meetings will be held in open spaces following COVID-19 guidelines."
The saffron party has sent six crore masks and bottles of sanitiser to the poll-bound state, the press release further stated.
The BJP's announcement comes on the heels of criticism from Opposition parties like the TMC and Congress, who held Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah responsible for the spike in COVID-19 cases in the state.
On Sunday, as West Bengal " in the midst of an eight-phased Assembly election, which is scheduled to end on 29 April " reported 8,419 new cases in a span of 24 hours, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi announced a curtailment of their election events.
Banerjee on Monday blamed the BJP for disrupting the COVID-19 situation in the state. "Modi and Amit Shah brought in thousands of outsiders with them for poll campaigns. They checked into hotels and guest houses and left after contaminating those places," she claimed.
"The situation here, however, is not as alarming as in places like Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat. In Delhi, lockdown has been imposed. In Uttar Pradesh, walls have been erected to hide bodies from view... In Bengal, we have to be alert," she added.
Banerjee also lambasted the Centre for "not taking adequate measures over the past six months to avert vaccine crisis". The chief minister added that Modi and Shah were busy "making plans to capture Bengal, instead of chalking out measures to prevent the COVID-19 spread across the country".
"Many safe houses built for COVID-19 patients have been booked by the EC for election purposes. The state has plans to take over Salt Lake Stadium, Netaji Indoor Stadium, and other stadiums in the districts and convert them into safe houses," she said.
Mamata Banerjee, Rahul Gandhi curtail poll events
In an interview, Banerjee said that she will not any "big rallies or roadshows" in Kolkata.
She was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying, "I have decided not to hold any big campaign rallies in Kolkata, barring one which would be held at Beadon Street on the last day of campaigning on 26 April. It would be a symbolic meeting. The party will, however, organise smaller street-corner meetings. I will also bring down the duration of my rallies from one hour to around 30 minutes."
TMC MP Derek O'Brien also tweeted about the development on Sunday:
Meanwhile, Rahul also exhorted other political leaders to reflect on the "consequences of holding large public rallies".
The Congress has also been critical of Modi and Shah for holding political rallies amid the rise in coronavirus cases in the country.
Senior party leader P Chidambaram accused the prime minister of "shocking callousness" for holding big political rallies in poll-bound Bengal amid the rise in COVID-19 cases.
He said the prime minister "should be at his job, sitting at his desk and coordinating with chief ministers in handling the pandemic".
Last week, the CPM had also announced the cancellation of its rallies for the remaining three phases of the West Bengal polls.
According to The Telegraph, the party was the first to curtail its election events in view of the COVID-19 surge.
"We have decided that we will not hold large rallies ahead of the remaining phases of elections. We will lay stress on door-to-door campaign, campaign through social media and small street corners. Door-to-door campaigns and street corners would be held following proper Covid-19 protocols," the report quoted CPM politburo member Md Salim as saying.
With inputs from PTI