Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for people to continue to come out "in line with Covid-19 protocols" and vote during the last phase of West Bengal state elections.
Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have come under fire for holding several rallies ahead of the elections in West Bengal, with thousands in attendance and failing to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Critics have accused the BJP of putting politics before public health. India is now facing a massive new wave of Covid-19 cases across the country and nationwide shortages of oxygen.
On April 22, the Election Commission of India tightened restrictions for the remaining phases of the West Bengal state assembly elections, banning road shows, vehicle rallies and large public meetings with more than 500 people after finding political parties and candidates were flouting Covid-19 guidelines.
However, political parties – including the BJP – continued to hold rallies throughout the week, even as India continued to record more than 300,000 cases per day.
Thursday is the last day of voting in West Bengal. The polls opened around 7 a.m. local time (9:30p ET) and are expected to close at 6:30 p.m. local (9a ET).
Southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala states, West Bengal and Assam states in the east and the union territory of Puducherry went to the polls on March 27, with voting taking place across eight phases and ending on April 29. All votes are to be counted on May 2, with the results announced on the same day, though India’s Election Commission has banned victory procession.
On Thursday, the Election Commission also issued guidelines ordering all polling officials and candidates to provide negative Covid-19 test reports or to have had both doses of Covid-19 vaccine ahead of May 2.