Should the 2022 Elections be our priority amidst such calamitous times?

Should the 2022 Elections be our Priority at the moment?Image Source: PTI

Besides the Coronavirus, another significant subject creating waves on news channels at the moment are the 2022 Elections. Indian Elections in 2022 will include elections to the office of the President, Vice President, the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha, the State Legislative Assemblies of 8 (eight) states, and numerous other by-elections within the State Legislative Assemblies, Councils and local bodies. Next year (2022) marks the end of terms of Legislative Assemblies of Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand in the month of March, and that of Uttar Pradesh is scheduled to end in May.

“That is the foremost duty of the Election Commission that we should hold the elections and submit the list of the winning candidates (to the governor) before the term of the assembly expires,” Chief Election Commissioner, Sushil Chandra told in an interview.

However, there is still uncertainty about conducting the polls as some of the Lok Sabha and assembly by-polls were deferred due to the second wave of COVID-19. The second wave of the pandemic also forced the postponement of some by-elections and biennial Legislative Council Elections.

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Representational image | Source: PTI

To these concerns, Chandra replied, “As you are aware that the second wave of COVID-19 is also receding and the numbers (of infections) are quite less. We have done elections in Bihar during the pandemic, we have done elections in four states and one UT. We have experience… We have learned various experiences on how to hold polls during the pandemic also.”

Covid Surge during elections 2021

This year witnessed elections being held in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, which seems to have boosted the confidence of the Election Commission of India to conduct the elections scheduled for 2022. The Commission claims that they have received quite an insight and experience in conducting such large scale polls in an effective and safe manner, especially during a pandemic.

Indian policemen guard at a vote counting centre for the state legislature elections amid a weekend lockdown
Indian policemen guard at a vote counting centre for the state legislature elections amid a weekend lockdown in Kochi. Credit: R S Iyer/AP

At face value, these affirmations might seem convincing, but it is important to keep in mind that the elections held during the second wave resulted in becoming super-spreaders of the deadly virus. It is necessary to question the precautions that will be taken by the Election Commission in case of the onset of another wave during the scheduled elections. The EC must also make sure that these elections do not lead to another surge of Coronavirus cases in the country. To guide the actions and precautions taken by the concerned authorities, it is important that we learn from the elections held this year.

Thousands of people gathered during rallies before elections in all four states, particularly in Bengal. (Reuters)
Thousands of people gathered during rallies before elections in all four states, particularly in Bengal. (Reuters)

West Bengal, which held its elections in March 2021, reported a sharp rise in cases in a subsequent couple of weeks, showing a clear linkage between the two events. No heed was paid towards following COVID-19 guidelines as people gathered in masses during the election campaigns and rallies held by numerous candidates. As per the State’s Health Department, the first election was held on March 27 on which day the state saw a single-day spike of 812 cases along with two deaths. The number of cases rose significantly in the subsequent days. The State suffered an escalation of almost five to eight times as many cases of COVID-19 reported per day, in comparison to the beginning in October 2020, and the infection rate peaked. Authorities involved in conducting the election polls claimed that appropriate COVID-19 safety measures were taken. However, the massive population of our nation makes the implementation of strict rules and social distancing a tough task.

1621 teachers
UP panchayats: teacher death toll hits 1,621 | Illustration : Antara Raman

In UP, a total of 1621 teachers died due to the Coronavirus during their duties at the gram panchayat elections. The Health Department of the State, however, claims that only 3 deaths occurred during the polls. It is evident from data and reports that many teachers were exposed to the virus during duty periods, which were imposed on them.

In April, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases in these four states and Puducherry went up by more than twice the national average in the respective week. Assam witnessed the worst surge in COVID-19 cases, standing at 76% followed by West Bengal at 54%. The best performer was Tamil Nadu where cases saw the lowest increase, with a growth rate of 40%.

covid in election states
All election conducting states showing a rapid surge in cases | Source: Economics Times

The way forward: States shall gear up to stay more cautious in upcoming elections

The positive news, now, is that the growth rate of fresh cases being reported is seeing a remarkable decline and the second wave is beginning to subside. This reduction can be seen as a result of the winding-up of the election process in these States. We cannot however dismiss the tragedy that the residents of these States suffered at the hands of elections.

At present, majority of the State Governments are highly engrossed in making arrangements for a potential third wave. Many countries around the world are also reporting their experiences of the fourth wave. This should be an eye-opener for India and people with power and authority should not rule out the possibility of subsequent waves and the chances of them being severe, as we have already observed in the recent past.

While conducting timely elections is one of the foremost duties of the election commission, we must at the same time ramp up our vaccination drives to ensure the maximum safety of people. Currently, the unstable system of vaccinations is also causing much concern amongst citizens of the country as they are frantically trying to get vaccination slots. Prior to conducting the 2022 Elections, Central and State governments must focus on vaccination drive. We look up to our leaders for effective administration and implementation of rules and guidelines and hence hope that the measures taken in future for any mass gatherings will be fulfilled with utmost precision and strictness.

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