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Election Result 2021: Did Voters Reward COVID-19 ‘Performers’?

Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan govt and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma received praise for their COVID-19 management.

Updated
Elections
3 min read
Kerala’s Pinarayi Vijayan govt and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma received praise for their COVID-19 management.
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"It is not the number of seats a party wins but the number of beds in hospital that will matter more," a tweet summed up the backdrop in which the results to four state elections were announced on Sunday, 2 May.

But was COVID-19 a factor in the elections?

First, Let's Look at the Second Wave And Its Political Impact

It must be remembered that the polling in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry was over by 6 April before the second COVID-19 wave had its full impact. It was the final three phases of polling in West Bengal that took place with the COVID-19 wave in full spate in the country.

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However, it is unclear whether COVID-19 became an issue in the last few phases of the election in Bengal. Be it due to underreporting or genuinely less number of cases, Bengal was comparatively less affected by the pandemic when the polling was taking place.

The TMC has done well in the areas in the last three phases but this could be due to the party's strength in areas like Kolkata and expansion in places like Murshidabad, rather than the pandemic.

It is possible that the BJP may have received some blame for the elongated election schedule despite the pandemic but this may not have been a decisive factor in shaping votes.

Handling of the First COVID-19 Phase

The handling of the first phase by different states could have had an impact on voting.

This may especially be the case in Kerala, where public health is an important electoral issue. The LDF government led by CM Pinarayi Vijayan received a great deal of praise for its handling of the Nipah virus, the COVID-19 pandemic, and also the Kerala floods. Health minister KK Shailaja in particular was hailed for her handling of the Nipah virus and COVID-19 pandemic.

It is likely that the LDF was rewarded for its handling of these crises, making it the first government in Kerala to be voted back to power in the last four decades.

Another state where the incumbent received praise for handling the COVID-19 crisis is Assam. Last year, Sarma was praised even by Opposition leaders like Badruddin Ajmal for his handling of the pandemic.

However, unlike Kerala this didn't become an electoral issue to the same extent.

It may have played a role in helping the BJP contain the damage of the anti-CAA movement that took place just before the COVID-19 crisis broke out.

In Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, and West Bengal, the pandemic doesn't seem to have been a major factor at all.

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What Lies Ahead

Even though the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state elections may have been limited, it is going to be the backdrop for the tussle between the Narendra Modi government and the Opposition in the days to come.

In her first public statement after the TMC's victory, Mamata Banerjee made it a point to tell her party workers to wear masks and observe social distancing even in their celebrations.

Tamil Nadu's CM-designate MK Stalin, while congratulating Banerjee, expressed hope that she will take up the challenge of fighting the pandemic in her state.

The Congress had already withdrawn all its spokespersons from TV debates on the elections, saying that the focus should be on the pandemic.

So it is clear that this is going to be the main political issue in the weeks to come, especially with predictions that the numbers could worsen around mid-May.

Already the pandemic seems to have caused a slight dip in PM Modi's popularity. How both the government and the Opposition handle this issue politically remains to be seen.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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