Tripura on Monday witnessed 84% polling in one Lok Sabha seat while in Assam 75% voters cast their ballot in five constituencies as the first phase of the nine-stage general elections ended peacefully.
Woman holding her son inside a polling booth in Majuli, Assam
Till 5 pm, when the polling ended, voters were standing in long queues and the polling percentage in the six constituencies of the two northeastern states could witness a rise.
The poll percentage in Tripura (West) seat, one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Tripura, could also see a rise of one or two per cent, said EC Director General Ashish Srivastava. Polling in Tripura (East) seat will be held on April 12.
84% of the 1.2 million electorate cast their ballot as polling was held in one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in the Left-ruled Tripura, an official said.
“This is a healthy start for Mandate 2014,” Tripura’s chief electoral officer Ashutosh Jindal said, adding polling was incident-free apart from four electronic voting machines malfunctioning.
Around 1.2 million people were eligible to vote Monday to pick a Lok Sabha member from among 13 candidates. Almost all the candidates are first-time contenders.
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This time, chief minister Manik Sarkar, BJP candidate and president of the party Sudhindra Dasgupta, state secretary of CPI(M) Bijan Dhar and trade union leader Sankar Prasad Datta,
Congress' Arunoday Saha, Trinamool Congress' state chief Ratan Chakraborty and Aam Aadmi Party's Salil Saha are among the aspirants.
In 2009, Khagen Das of the CPI(M) defeated Sudip Roy Barman of the Congress.
The Left has won from West Tripura 11 times since the first Lok Sabha election of 1952 and the Congress four times.
Voters wait in line outside a polling station in Dibrugarh during Lok Sabha elections. (AFP photo)
The ruling CPI-M this time dropped both its sitting members - Das and Bajuban Reang (Tripura East), who has won the seat a record seven times since 1980.
The CPI-M is focusing on the development work it has done in Tripura, while attacking the Congress-led union government for poor governance, price rise and corruption in the country.
The opposition is focussing on the Left's misgovernance, unemployment and rising crimes against women.
Polling in the tribal reserved Tripura East constituency will be held April 12.
Security measures have been tightened for the polls with additional companies of security forces, including CRPF, deployed.
75% of the 64.4 lakh voters exercised their franchise peacefully in five Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam sealing the electoral fate of 51 contestants, including two union ministers in the first phase.
Chief electoral officer Vijayendra said, “The first half of the day witnessed heavy polling, and till 5pm the turnout touched 75%.”
“There was a lot of enthusiasm among young and first-time voters,” he added
Poll officials said there were reports of clashes between Congress and Asom Gana Parishad supports in Assam’s Kaliabor constituency. At Samaguri under the constituency, AGP workers blocked NH37 after Congress supporters allegedly assaulted six party members.
Political parties were upbeat about the high turnout. The Congress said it was indicative of a clear mandate for the party while the BJP felt people came out in large numbers for a change.
BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi addressed five rallies in Assam, indicative of the party’s attention on a region that has been a Congress bastion. Tripura, on the other hand, has been a Left Front stronghold.
An estimated 6.4 million people were eligible to vote Monday for the five seats, which have a total of 51 candidates in the fray.
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The second phase of polling will be held April 12 in three of the state's total 14 constituencies - Silchar, Karimganj and Diphu (autonomous district).
The third phase will be held April 24 in the remaining six constituencies - Gauhati, Barpeta, Nowgong, Dhubri, Kokrajhar and Mangaldai.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, his wife as well as his son and Koliabor constituency Congress candidate Gaurav Gogoi cast their vote in Jorhat, while union minister and contestants Paban Singh Ghatowar and Ranee Narah also exercised their franchise in Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur constituencies, respectively.
Election Commission officials seal an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) prior to the start of voting at a polling station in Dibrugarh, Assam. (AFP photo)
Former union minister and sitting MP Bijoy Krishna Handique, contesting as Congress nominee from Jorhat, also cast his vote with his family members.
The Congress, BJP, Trinamool Congress, AIUDF, AGP, AAP, SUCI, CPI(M), AIFB and SP are contesting in the five seats during the first phase of elections in the Congress-ruled state.
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Among the 51 candidates are union ministers Ranee Narah and Paban Singh Ghatowar, sitting MP Bijoy Krishna Handique, CM Gogoi's son Gourav Gogoi and Bhupen Kumar Bora from the Congress. Congress rebel and Independent candidate Moni Kumar Subba is also in the fray.
For the BJP, its unit president Sorbananda Sonowal and Kamakhya Prasad Tasa are contesting, while AGP's nominees are Arun Kumar Sarma, Pradip Hazarika and Joseph Toppo.
For the first time in the northeast region and the third time in the country after Kashmir and Bihar, all polling booths in Assam have been declared smoking free.
High stake in northeast
The battle for supremacy between BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and Congress' GenNext leader Rahul Gandhi began from six constituencies in the unlikeliest of places – the northeast.
The stakes for both Congress and BJP are high in the eight-state northeast with 25 seats that could prove crucial in the numbers game. While the former is desperate to improve upon its 2009 show (13 seats), the latter has campaigned aggressively to nudge the Congress out of its bastion.
The BJP has channelled its energy on Congress-ruled Assam, where the party feels it has the best chances in the region despite demographic constraints. The state's ethnic diversity besides the Congress hold on three major vote banks – Muslim migrants, Adivasi tea plantation workers and myriad tribes – prevented it from bagging more than four seats.
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The saffron party has never won any of the Phase 1 seats – Tezpur, Kaliabor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur – spread across Assam's tea belt. But it is banking on the "Modi wave" and the Gujarat chief minister's "connect" as a tea seller for a change in the script.
The Phase 1 date coincides with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom's raising day.
In 2009, Congress won four of the five Phase 1 seats that changed hands between Congress and Asom Gana Parishad in the last 30 years. But dissidence – several MLAs have campaigned against party candidates – has dogged the party.
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The AGP, on the other hand, is believed to be a shadow of its past. The regional party's downslide is said to have been at the expense of its former ally BJP. The pro-minorities All India United Democratic Front, the X factor in 2009, has a token presence in the first phase.
The Congress and BJP too have a token presence in Left-dominated Tripura West constituency where CPM has fielded legislator Shankar Prasad Dutta.
Watch: Polling begins for 5 LS seats in Assam, 1 seat in Tripura
(With inputs from Digambar Patowary and PTI and IANS)