Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling political party has said it will no longer hold large election rallies in the state of West Bengal, citing a “difficult phase of the pandemic.”
Instead, Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will hold “small public gatherings," with a cap of 500 people, according to a BJP statement released Monday.
West Bengal, one of five Indian states where elections are currently being held, has seen tens of thousands in attendance at rallies organized by the BJP and by the Trinamool Congress Party – who currently rules the state government.
West Bengal, which has never had a BJP government, has become a key focus for the party. However, the elections are being held amid the country’s second wave.
On Tuesday, India reported a 6th consecutive day of more than 200,000 new Covid-19 cases, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Indian health ministry.
The country has reported nearly 1.5 million new cases in the past seven days alone.
India’s health ministry also reported 1,761 new deaths, the highest in almost 10 months.
In West Bengal, a total of 668,353 total cases have been reported, including 10,606 deaths and 53,418 active cases, according to the Indian Ministry of Health on Tuesday.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India's main opposition party, said the Indian National Congress had suspended all public rallies in West Bengal as of Sunday.
The Chief Minister of West Bengal and founder of the Trinamool Congress Party Mamata Banerjee said at a rally on Monday that she would hold short meetings considering the ongoing pandemic.
Banerjee also accused the central government for inadequately preparing for India’s current surge, saying that Modi “ has not done anything to stop covid nor let anyone else do anything to stop it” and that “the prime minister is responsible.”
The Trinamool Congress Party has also appealed to the country's election commission to combine the remaining electoral phases into one day, due to the surge in cases. If that strategy was approved, it would expedite the election process and eliminate the need for further election rallies.
For now, the election commission is currently moving forward with a phased election strategy.
West Bengal has a total of eight polling days, with three remaining. The next date of polling is on April 22.