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Voting ends for Assam polls

Braving incessant rains, people came out in large numbers to vote. Polling took place in 61 constituencies.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 16:39 IST
Agencies

Voting ended for the second and final phase of assembly elections on Monday in the northeastern state of Assam.

Polling took place in 61 of the state's 126 assembly constituencies.

Braving incessant rains, people came out in large numbers to vote. The elections were held amid tight security.

Till 3.00 pm, 40 to 45 per cent polling took place.

"The voting trend is encouraging despite rains in many places. There are no reports of any untoward incidents so far," an election official said.

About 8.2 million voters out of the 17.43 million electorate in Assam were eligible to cast their ballots. Voting took place in nearly 9,000 polling booths with some 60,000 election officials engaged for conducting the exercise.

There were 482 candidates in the fray.

Voting in the first phase of the two-stage elections ended on April 3 in 65 constituencies with an estimated 73.24 per cent voter turnout. There were 515 candidates in the first phase of elections.

A majority of the 61 assembly constituencies where polling took place during the day are in Muslim-dominated areas.

"In minority areas like South Salmara and Mancachar, the voting percentage is very high with people in large numbers queuing up in polling stations," the official said.

Muslims account for about 30 per cent of the state's 26 million people and are a deciding factor in at least 30 to 40 assembly seats.

"I came travelling by bus overnight from Jagun (a village about 450 km in eastern Assam) just to exercise my vote," Mohammed Rashid, a brick kiln worker, said.

The village of Kharupetia in northern Assam's Darrang district, about 85 km from the state's main city Guwahati, is a Muslim dominated area - most inhabitants being Bengali speaking settlers living on sandbars.

The battle lines were drawn between the Congress and the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad that was fighting the polls on the issue of illegal immigration into the state from Bangladesh. Congress currently holds 71 of the 126 seats.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the newly floated Asom United Democratic Front (AUDF), a Muslim based party, were the other two major players. The AUDF was trying to become the new messiah of the Muslim minority.

The authorities deployed nearly 50,000 police and paramilitary troopers for the polls. Unlike in the past there had been no incidents of rebel attacks in the run-up to the elections this time.

The changed climate is generally attributed to a desire for peace by a vast majority of the people and a concerted government drive to end the insurgency that has claimed 10,000 lives in the past two decades.

In the past, political parties used to tell candidates not to campaign after dusk for fear of attacks by outlawed separatist groups. Fear would grip candidates and their supporters, including polling officials, during elections with militant groups like the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), and the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) wreaking havoc.

But the ULFA formed a group of local community leaders to initiate peace talks with New Delhi last year. Two rounds of talks have already been held and ULFA has said it will not "interfere" in the polls this time.

The NDFB too declared a ceasefire last year, while the BLT has signed a peace accord with the Centre.