Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday urged citizens to exercise their universal franchise as voting began in the seventh phase of the West Bengal assembly election at 7am. He also reminded voters to follow the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) protocols. "The seventh phase of the West Bengal elections takes place today. Urging people to exercise their franchise and follow all Covid-19 related protocols," he posted on Twitter.
Polling began across 34 assembly constituencies amid tight security. Initially, 36 constituencies were to go to polls but voting in Jangipur and Samserganj was deferred as candidates contesting from the respective seats died of coronavirus-related disease.
This phase of election comes in the backdrop of the country reeling under the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. As many as 349,691 fresh infections and 2,767 fatalities were recorded in India in the previous 24 hours, according to the health ministry dashboard on Sunday morning. This pushed the country's total infection tally and death toll to 16,960,172 and 192,311 respectively.
The Election Commission of India (ECI), while announcing the poll schedule, instructed officials to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour is followed by the voters. Everyone is mandated to maintain physical distancing and wear masks at the polling booths.
In view of the rising cases of Covid-19 in the state, the ECI also put a ban on political rallies and roadshows in the state. No public meeting having more than 500 people will be allowed, the poll body said. Following the order, PM Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee were among the top leaders to cancel their rallies in the state. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had suspended his rallies on April 18.
The first round of voting was held on March 27 and the subsequent rounds took place on April 1, 6, 10, 17 and 22. The eighth and final round of voting is scheduled for April 29 and the counting of votes will take place May 2.