Bye-poll campaigns in full throttle, safety measures take backseat

A man sits near a fireplace where food is cooked for the whole members of the khel. (Morung Photo)
A man sits near a fireplace where food is cooked for the whole members of the khel. (Morung Photo)

Morung Express news
Kohima | October 29

Come election seasons, pre-election feasts and mass gathering of supporters putting up camps, not to mention public reception of campaigners, become a more regular and publicly observable affair in the Naga community. 

However, given the threat the pandemic poses for the health and safety of the citizens, elections, undoubtedly cannot have the same flare. The Election Commission on this line also issued a broad set of 'guidelines for conduct of elections/bye-elections during COVID-19' on August 21, this year prior to the government's announcement of poll dates.

The rules as set down included general guidelines on compulsory use of masks and sanitizers at all times; for officials including EVMs, VVPATs, training nomination etc; arrangements for polling station and polling day; and campaign through door-to-door, road shows, election meetings etc.

It further directed state level ECs to promulgate a comprehensive plan at state level, "taking local conditions into account." However, the guidelines remained almost as it is, without any addition.

As such, elections feasts and gatherings have become more apparent in the last few days with the polling date nearing and more so no guidelines have been specifically mentioned in this regard even when strict COVID-19 protocol was maintained at the rallies because of surveillance.

In 14 Southern Angami-1, a candidate since October 21 is said to have acquired around 28 pigs and 5 cows till date for hosting feasts for villagers in the constituency. "Every khel has a kitchen mess, where food is prepared every evening for every single family irrespective of being a supporter of the candidate or not, children or adult," an onlooker commented while an unrestrained crowd jostled around at the meeting area waiting for the food to arrive. This has reportedly been continuing for about 10 days.

Another candidate has set up camps for his supporters where food items like meat and rice is supplied and on occasions, alcohol as well.  "Newcomers can be entertained when the supply of food and alcohol is frequented," an insider said. In a latest, the Pungro Village Students' Union seized cash and IMFL which allegedly belonged to a BJP party worker.

The lax in maintaining physical distancing discipline or COVID-safe measures whether in villages or towns, coming without masks or being careless could also point towards directly flouting COVID-19 protocol and election guidelines.

The flood of people gathering without physical distancing at public rallies or residence of the candidates even with election watchdogs around poses a serious threat to the public health and safety keeping in mind the surge in cases and fatalities which is also seen to be increasing.

The EC had also said that legal action would be taken against those who fail to comply with the rules. However, when contacted, Nagaland Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Abhijit Sinha said that there were no reports of violations and District Election Officers have not issued any warning to candidates till date. The CEO also informed that Cash Release Committee is investigating the recent seizure at Pungro, while adding that no alcohol seizure was reported. He also declined to give any comment on election feasts.