Rahul cancels rallies in Bengal, should Modi follow suit?

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·5-min read

Amidst the rising coronavirus cases in the country and in election-bound West Bengal, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has cancelled all public rallies, programmes and road shows. He also advised all other politicians to think about the consequences of holding large public rallies.

“In view of the Covid situation, I am suspending all my public rallies in West Bengal.I would advise all political leaders to think deeply about the consequences of holding large public rallies under the current circumstances,” he said on Twitter.

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The local leaders will instead do door-to-door (d-t-d) campaigning and small nukkad sabhas instead of big rallies to prevent the spread of disease. Some of these rallies have witnessed huge crowds in excess of one lakh with no / minimal social distancing and masks.

Bharatiya Janata Party social media warriors have lashed out at Rahul terming his gesture as a mere gimmick as Congress party is in contention in only a handful of seats in Bengal.

Rahul who was absent from the campaign scene in the state had conducted a few rallies for Phase 5 polls. He was expected to do more rallies for Phase 7 and 8 elections scheduled on 26th and 29th of April.

India registered the highest number of cases (2.75 lakh) and deaths (1,620) yesterday. In Bengal, the number of new cases per day have doubled from 4,000 a week ago to 8,400 levels.

The eight-phase polling has seen a massive campaign by BJP as it smells a chance to dethrone the Trinamool Congress government in the state.

The Congress party has been critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for holding political rallies amid the rise in coronavirus cases in the country.

Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has accused the prime minister of shocking callousness for holding big political rallies. He said the prime minister should be at his job, sitting at his desk and coordinating with chief ministers in handling the COVID pandemic.

The CPI(M) also hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for continuing to campaign in the West Bengal Assembly polls despite the surge in COVID-19 cases, alleging that he is demonstrating his role as a “partisan party campaigner” and not that of the country’s PM.

The Left parties were the first to announce that they would not hold large public rallies in the poll-bound West Bengal due to a spike in cases.

Taking a cue from Rahul, amidst the surge in Covid-19 cases, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has also announced that she would not organise any big rallies or roadshows in Kolkata.

“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 April 26. It would be a symbolic meeting,” Banerjee said, in an interview to a vernacular news channel on Sunday.

“The party would, however, organise smaller street-corner meetings. I would also bring down the duration of my rallies from one hour to around 30 minutes,” said Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief.

The pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to cancel / curb his rallies in Bengal. There is a danger of exponential rise in cases after the polling ends in the state.

Even many right wing sympathisers on social media have requested the PM to stop campaigning and instead focus on digital outreach like the one employed in Bihar in the initial days of campaigning.

Why has the BJP not yet called off PM’s rallies?

Modi is the star campaigner of the party. In a situation where the BJP has not declared a chief ministerial candidate, Bengal has become a Modi versus Mamata battle. Party is seeking votes in his name. Elections to 114 seats are still pending. Campaigning for Phase 6 ends today evening (43 seats).

These are important phases and considered TMC strongholds. BJP needs to make a dent in these seats to win Bengal and if the PM cancels his rallies then it could harm the party's prospects. The cadre and candidates could get demotivated. The prime minister, because of paucity of time, can’t do d-t-d campaigns.

The Election Commission has already reduced the campaigning by one day for all political parties. West Bengal is still not registering more than 10,000 cases, and the situation is under control as of now.

Cancelling rallies in Bengal will not reduce the number of cases in Maharashtra, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or other states. The prime minister is holding constant meetings to gauge the covid situation, availability of oxygen and beds in the country and is on top of things.

Why should the PM curtail his rallies? The prime minister has a larger life than image, much bigger than his party. His supporters cut across party lines and he is looked up to by the people of the country. His silence on the crisis has been deafening this time. He has not addressed the nation in this precarious situation.

Conducting rallies that are massive without adequate protection measures (despite good intentions) and having them televised on channels, will do more harm than good to his image. He could be seen as power hungry among a section of populace and also being insensitive.

A balanced approach is required. The party needs to club all his rallies for the balance of two phases in a single day. So he should visit the state once for Phase 7 and once for Phase 8 polling and conduct rallies on these days. This effectively reduces his campaigns to only two days in Bengal.

Considering the coronavirus situation in the state and country, and his duties towards the party, this seems to be a win-win proposition for all. This solution also takes care of his image.

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