A major reason for this is that the two giants who dominated the State’s political landscape for decades – J Jayalalithaa and Muthuvel Karunanidhi – are no more. Their absence has left a palpable vacuum, but more importantly, this is an election that takes place in the shadow of a pandemic. Ordinary people struggling with lost jobs and diminished earnings are understandably very focussed on basic livelihood issues; at a time like this, it is natural that politics gets pushed a little into the background.
Holding an election at a time like this is certainly a challenge. In Tamil Nadu, COVID-19 cases have been rising steadily, as they have in many other States, over the past few weeks. Late last week, the State registered over 3,000 new infections daily, a five-month high. There is confirmation now that several variants have been responsible for the nationwide increase in COVID-19 cases. The only good news, from the available evidence at least, is that these are less deadly, even if they spread more easily.
It is imperative that people vote – because casting a ballot is the most basic act of citizenship, one that makes up the very foundation of our democracy. It is important to remember that as Indians, the government’s legitimacy is based on the will and consent of the governed. At a time like this, however, it is hugely important to vote in an orderly and responsible manner – keeping in mind the various COVID-19 protocols. The use of masks, thermal scanning, sanitisers, and ensuring enough social distancing must all be adhered to strictly for the safety of those voting and others. It is of course up to the Election Commission to ensure that such protocols are rigidly enforced and that polling day does not become a super-spreader.
It is entirely possible that governments, both at the Centre and the States, start reviewing the set of restrictions in place to contain COVID-19. There are reports that hospitals are running to full capacity in some cities and unable to accommodate more coronavirus patients; at the same time, there are rumours, possibly not entirely unfounded, that States going to the polls are under-reporting their COVID-19 numbers. Already, Maharashtra, easily the worst-affected State, has publicly declared that if the surge continues, there is a possibility of re-introducing a complete lockdown. The completion of this round of State elections in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry is likely to see new nationwide initiatives to combat this second surge.
It is a matter of speculation who will win the election. But it is a matter of absolute necessity to ensure that the coronavirus is not one of them.