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Stage Set For First Phase Assam Assembly Polls, Baruah’s Threat Hangs Heavy In The Air

GUWAHATI, Apr 3: The stage is all set for the first phase of Assam assembly polls in 62 of the 126 constituencies to be held amid tight security in 13 districts tomorrow.

Polling personnel assigned to far-flung areas have already left for their stations since Friday and those near to the district or sub-divisional headquarters were scheduled to leave by this evening, official sources said.

A variety of transport like buses, bullock carts and boats have been pressed into service to transport the polling personnel but in some remote areas of North Cachar Hills district the polling party has to trek for three days to reach their destination.

An electorate of 85,09,011, comprising 43,91,895 males and 41,17,116 females, will decide the fate of 485 candidates (447 males and 38 female), including Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

The electorate will exercise their franchise in 11,264 polling stations. A total of 2,033 booths have been identified as hyper sensitive, 2,985 sensitive and 817 hamlets as vulnerable.

Polling will be held amid tight security in the backdrop of threat issued by the Paresh Barua faction of the banned ULFA and also due to possible clashes between supporters of various candidates as the run-up to the polls witnessed a few poll-related clashes in some Barak Valley constituencies.

Altogether 346 companies of central paramilitary forces have been deployed for the polls with 65 to 75 per cent of polling stations, including most of the critical ones; will be covered by central paramilitary forces and the rest by police, micro-observers and video-cameras.

A triangular contest among ruling Congress, BJP and AGP was likely in most constituencies which include 15 in the Barak Valley, five in the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills district, eight in Sonitpur and the remaining 34 in Upper Assam districts of Dhemaji, Golaghat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur and Jorhat.

Campaigning for the first phase, though initially slow-paced with the major parties beset with dissidence and dissatisfaction over ticket allotment, became high voltage during the past one week with star campaigners of the various parties descending on the state to woo the electorate.

The ruling Congress though burdened with an anti-incumbency factor is expecting to enter the Assembly for the third consecutive term with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee among others batting for Chief Minister Gogoi by highlighting his achievements during the last 10 years.

The BJP, in particular, put in an aggressive campaign with almost all senior national leaders including former deputy prime minister LK Advani, party president Nitin Gadkari, leaders of Opposition in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, former party chief M Venkaiah Naidu, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda coming to the state.

The AGP’s campaign was muted with party president Chandramohan Patowary and former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta pitching in for candidates in the party strongholds.

The BJP brought in the glamour quotient with Bollywood stars Hema Malini and Shatrughan Sinha and television star Smriti Irani campaigning in different constituencies while the Congress had only Raj Babbar to canvass for the party.

The Left Parties, with CPI and CPI-M contesting 17 seats each in the polls, had senior Politburo members Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat campaigning for the candidates.

The issues on which the different parties campaigned were varied with Congress leaders highlighting the development of the state, various schemes introduced during the last 10 years, initiating peace talks with ULFA and utter chaos and economic mismanagement during AGP rule.

BJP and AGP harped mostly on corruption issues, particularly on the multi-crore funds diversion scam in North Cachar Hills, and alleged failure of the Congress to solve the issues of foreigners’ influx, flood, erosion and neglect of the weaker sections, particularly the tea tribe community.

Political parties, however, did not make insurgency a major issue in the just-concluded poll campaigning.

Among the prominent candidates in the fray in the first phase are Chief Minister Gogoi (from Titabor), Assembly Speaker Tanka Bahadur Rai (Barchalla), Deputy Speaker Pranati Phukan (Naharkatiya), Power Minister Pradyut Bordoloi (Margherita), PWD Minister Ajanta Neog (Golaghat), Culture and Sports Minister Bharat Narah (Dhakuakhana), Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Nurjamal Sarkar (Bishwanath), Public Health Department Minister Dinesh Prasad Goala (Lakhimpur) and Handloom and Law Minister Pranab Gogoi (Sibsagar).

BJP state unit president Ranjit Dutta from Bihali, former AGP chief Brindabon Goswami from Tezpur, controversial sitting independent MLAs and former ULFA militants Jiten Deuri from Bokakhat and Kushal Dowari from Thowra, and ASDC leader Mohit Hojai from Haflong, currently in jail in connection with NC Hills funds diversion scam, are also in the fray.

Karimganj (South) in Barak Valley has the highest number of 25 candidates in the fray while Bokajan in Karbi Anglong district has the least with only three candidates.

(Courtesy: Press Trust of India)

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