An Indian court urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to suspend political rallies and election campaigns in poll-bound states amid the rising number of Omicron cases, a variant of COVID-19.
Judges of the Allahabad High Court in the country’s most populous Uttar Pradesh (UP) state said on Thursday the number of people infected with Omicron is on the rise and could result in a third wave of the coronavirus.
Elections to the state assembly in UP , home to over 220 million people, are scheduled for early next year but final dates are yet to declared. Three other states are also scheduled to hold local elections at the same time.
UP is a key battleground for Modi and opposition parties because of its size and because the performance of political parties there will be a barometer for the 2024 national elections.
Political parties, including Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have started holding rallies and meetings where crowds continue to ignore pandemic protocols.
The judges said, if possible, the elections that are expected to be held in February next year be postponed by a couple of months.
“The court requests the honourable prime minister that looking at the situation of this frightening pandemic, to take strong steps and stop rallies, gatherings and cancel or postpone (the) upcoming election,” the judges said.
“Because only if there is life, we have our world,” they stated.
India’s overall tally of the fast-spreading Omicron variant has reached 358 cases, across 17 states, authorities said on Friday, although no deaths have been reported so far.
Modi addressed large crowds in a Hindu pilgrimage city in UP on Thursday.
Earlier this year, his government had faced severe criticism for mishandling of the pandemic during the second wave that overran healthcare across the country. In all, India has recorded 34.8 million COVID cases and nearly 480,000 deaths.
Modi’s government has raced to inoculate all of the country’s 944 million adults and have given at least one dose to 88% of those.
And yet, millions are vulnerable to new infections, particularly in the vast hinterlands of states such as UP where healthcare is fragile.