New Delhi: The BJP has registered gains in very early leads as votes are being counted for elections held in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry in March-April amid a devastating Covid surge that has overwhelmed the country’s health care system.
Whether Mamata Banerjee will retain Bengal against an aggressive challenge from the BJP will be the big takeaway from the results today.
The Chief Minister’s Trinamool and the BJP ran a bitter, no holds barred campaign that defied Covid safety rules as well as the poll code.
The most-watched fight in Bengal will be for Nandigram, where the Chief Minister faces off against the BJP’s Suvendhu Adhikari, her ex-aide whose December defection triggered a flood of exits.
In Assam the BJP is looking for a second straight term and has allied with the Asom Gana Parishad and the UPPL (United People’s Party Liberal). The Congress campaigned hard to reclaim its one-time bastion.
In Tamil Nadu, the BJP is junior partner to the ruling AIADMK, which faces a fight to retain power against a resurgent DMK, which swept the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
In Kerala, the incumbent LDF is hoping to buck a 40-year tradition and win re-election. The Congress-led UDF is the other main alliance.
Voting for these elections took place in March and April, just as India started reporting thousands of fresh coronavirus infections every day. On March 14, two weeks before the first phase, there were fewer than 25,000 new cases a day.
On March 27 there were around 62,000 and, by April 29, there were well over 3.5 lakh per day. On Saturday, new cases reached a record daily high of 401,993, the biggest across the world.
Alongside the Covid spike, leaders of all political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led political rallies at which large crowds discarded safety rules on masks and social distancing.
Last week the Madras High Court said the Election Commission “should probably be booked for murder” for not stopping rallies. Late Saturday the Commission hit back and filed a complaint in the Supreme Court.
The Election Commission has banned all victory processions. The poll body has also said candidates will not be allowed inside counting centres without either a negative Covid report (no older than 48 hours) or confirmation that they’d received both their vaccine shots.
Exit polls gives Mamata Banerjee an edge in what promises to be a close fight in Bengal.
In Tamil Nadu the exit polls predict a sweep for the DMK and its allies, which includes the Congress.
The BJP is expected to retain power in Assam. In Kerala, the polls predict that the Left-led LDF front will be re-elected.