The battle for supremacy between BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi and Congress’ GenNext leader Rahul Gandhi begins on Monday from six constituencies in the unlikeliest of places – the northeast.
Over 25% of the 64,41,634 voters exercised their franchise during the first three hours of polling to decide the fate of 51 candidates in five Lok Sabha seats in Assam amidst tight security on Monday.
With polling beginning at 7am, Tezpur recorded 20%, Jorhat 22%, Lakhimpur 25%, Dibrugarh 20% and Koliabor 30% votes till 10am, election office sources said.
Polling has been peaceful so far. There were reports of EVMs malfunctioning in Dibrugarh, Kaliabor, Tezpur and Lakhimpur constituencies. The machines were later replaced and voting continued uninterrupted, the sources said.
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.
Former union minister and sitting MP Bijoy Krishna Handique, contesting as Congress nominee from Jorhat, also cast his vote with his family members.
With 6.5 lakh first time voters registered this time, long queues were seen in front of the polling booths.
Most of the early morning voters were women who said they wanted to cast their ballot before they get busy in household chores for the day.
About 15% votes were cast within two hours of voting in Tripura West Lok Sabha constituency, where polling began at 7am on Monday.
Of the two constituencies - Tripura West and Tripura East (ST), election is being held in Tripura West constituency on Monday where about 15% voters exercised their franchise till 9am, sources in the state Election department said.
The first of the nine-phase polls off the mainstream combat zone covers five of 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam and one of two in Tripura.
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.
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 Modi laddoo has no takers in a state where people prefer local sweets,” said Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who has been the Congress star campaigner in an election minus the customary threat of disruption from various militant outfits. The Phase 1 date coincides with the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom’s raising day.
Poll schedule for Phase 1: Assam and Tripura
Read: Can Modi revive Vajpayee magic in northeast states?
A security personnel stands guard as people line up to cast their vote outside a polling station in Nakhrai village in Tinsukia district in, Assam. (Reuters Photo)
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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Poll officials collect Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) at a distribution center in Jorhat. (PTI Photo)
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.
Read: Muslim voters play deciding role in polls
Among the 64 candidates – 13 in Tripura West seat – in the first phase are union ministers Paban Singh Ghatowar and Ranee Narah, former union minister Bijoy Krishna Handique and the Assam chief minister’s son Gaurav Gogoi (all Congress).
For the BJP are its state unit president Sarbananda Sonowal and Adivasi leader Kamakhya Prasad Tasa while the AGP’s stalwarts incumbent MP Joseph Toppo, former MP Arun Kumar Sarma and Pradip Hazarika. 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.
An election official checks an Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) prior to distribution to polling officials at Agartala, the capital of Tripura. (AFP photo)
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(With inputs from PTI)