Under-fire India PM Modi loses in elections as Covid cases surge

3 May 2021, 09:24 | Updated: 3 May 2021, 10:01

India is facing a continued fight against surging Covid cases
India is facing a continued fight against surging Covid cases. Picture: PA

By Will Taylor

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party suffered a clear defeat in a key election as the country faces surging Covid cases and a public health crisis.

Countries have raced to send medical equipment to the beleaguered country, which has recorded 368,000 new cases and 3,400 more deaths in a 24-hour period.

Hospitals have fears for their oxygen supplies, while massive rallies organised by Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a large Hindu festival on the banks of the Ganges could have made the spread of Covid worse, according to experts.

While the BJP managed to win a second term in the state of Assam, it failed to achieve victory in Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south, and did not manage to beat West Bengal's chief minister in that key election.

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Anger has been aimed at Mr Modi and India's Electoral Commission for allowing the votes to go ahead in March and April, as newly confirmed cases began to climb above 100,000 a day.

Supporters of the All India Trinamool Congress party, which beat the BJP overwhelmingly in West Bengal, held celebrations in the state though many attended without masks and social distancing.

Political analyst Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said: "The BJP started running out of steam as the pandemic spread."

He added that the "verdict in West Bengal state will definitely weaken Mr Modi's position" but said it was too early to tell if the vote was a statement against the BJP's response to the pandemic.

Mr Modi's term is not up until 2024.

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India has confirmed nearly 20 million cases since the outbreak began, second only to the US's figure of 32.4 million.

The Health Ministry says more than 218,000 people have died from Covid-19 in India but that is thought to be an undercount.

The High Court in Tamil Nadu criticised the Electoral Commission for holding the vote.

Experts have pointed to India's dense population and the Government's loose restrictions around election rallies and religious gatherings, while others have also blamed new and more contagious Covid variants.

The leaders of 13 opposition parties wrote a letter urging the Government to begin a free vaccination drive and ensure oxygen supplies to hospitals.

India is the world's biggest vaccine producer but just 10% of Indians have received a dose, while a mere 1.5% have had two doses.

The New Delhi High Court said it would take action on Government officials if oxygen supplies allocated for hospitals did not arrive.

The UK, which put India on its red list for travel amid worries about a variant first detected there, has announced it will send another 1,000 ventilators.