Assam records over 77% polling in second phase; 6 injured in violence
Nearly 77.21% of over 7.3 million voters turned out to vote across 39 assembly constituencies that went to polls in the second phase of polling in Assam.
Election officials said the poll percentage was likely to go up slightly once the final compilation is done.
Six people sustained injuries in Cachar and Darrang districts in poll-related violence. There were reports of Electronic Voting Machine glitches, which poll officials informed, were immediately replaced for the resumption of polling.
Three people sustained bullet injuries in Sonai of Cachar district in a clash between supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party and All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF). The incident occurred after BJP candidate from the seat Aminul Haque Laskar, who is also the deputy speaker of the state assembly, complained of poll irregularity by AIUDF workers. It is not clear yet who fired the shots.
In a separate incident at Kalaigaon in Darrang district, three people were injured when police fired at protesters who were reportedly trying to prevent poll officials from taking back EVMs after polling. Locals alleged that the EVMs were rigged.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to retain power in Assam, where the Congress and Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) have formed a coalition against the Sarbananda Sonowal-led government.
As many as 10,592 polling stations were set up for the second phase across the 13 districts in the Barak Valley, the Hill region, and parts of Central and Lower Assam.
Voters turned out to vote wearing masks and maintained a social distance of six feet outside polling stations as part of Covid-19 protocol. They were examined with thermal scanners for body temperature, provided sanitisers, and disposable plastic gloves before voting.
E-rickshaws were available for senior citizens in Cachar district to ensure they were able to vote. Wheelchairs were also provided at all the election centres. Volunteers helped the elderly and disabled at polling booths. Resting areas were also created for senior citizens to wait for their turn to vote.
An extra hour has been provided for voting in view of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed a poll rally ahead of the third phase of polling in Kokrajhar, said in the first phase, the people of Assam gave them support. “They have put the seal of victory on the double-engine growth government [at Centre and in the state]. Thursday’s voting trend [for the second phase] is also very encouraging.”
Congress leader Sushmita Dev, who voted at a polling booth in Silchar, said her party will win the elections.
Congress leader Manish Tewari, who is in Guwahati, said after the second phase, as the Congress-led alliance inches towards the majority figure in Assam, a rejected and dejected BJP, is trying every trick in the book. “They can already sense that they are losing people’s support at a rapid rate.”
Several polling stations in Cachar were decked up, showcasing the cultural legacy of the district through the display of handicrafts and handlooms.
First-time voters were greeted with traditional Assamese scarves as well as with saplings.
Elections to the 126-member assembly are being held in three phases. As many as 79.97% eligible voters voted across 47 constituencies in the first phase on March 27. The third and final phase elections for 40 seats will be held on April 6.
The votes will be counted on May 2.
In Kokrajhar, Modi said the people of Assam have shown the “red card” to the Congress-led alliance in the state. He accused the previous Congress governments of being mute spectators for decades to violence in the Bodoland Territorial Region.
“Football is a popular sport among the youth of Assam, and to use their parlance, the people of Assam have shown the Congress-led alliance the red card,” he said at a rally at Kokrajhar.
He alleged the Congress governments in the state and at the Centre did nothing for decades to check violence in the Bodoland areas.
Modi targeted Congress over its alliance the AIUDF. “...look at their [Congress’s] audacity...they are joining hands with those whose support they needed earlier for their vote-bank politics...they are now forming an alliance of lies with them and dreaming of forming the government. The Congress has surrendered to these forces in its lust for power,” he added.
He referred to a video in which Ajmal was seen throwing the traditional Assamese stole on the stage at an election rally. “The images have hurt people and made them angry. They will not tolerate this insult to Assam’s symbol of identity...”
BJP leaders including Union Home Minister Amit Shah have accused Ajmal and his party of encouraging illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
In New Delhi, the Election Commission (EC) on Thursday issued a show-cause notice to Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma for allegedly making threatening remarks against Hagrama Mohilary, president of the Bodoland People’s Front. He has been asked to respond to the notice by 5 pm on April 2.
The Congress approached the EC alleging that Sarma had threatened to send Mohilary to jail by misusing the National Investigation Agency.
The Bodoland People’s Front is an ally of the Congress in Assam.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is busy campaigning for the third phase of polls, wasn’t available for his reaction to the EC notice.
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, professor of political science in Gauhati University said, “The second phase will be tough for the BJP-led ruling alliance due to coming together of Congress and AIUDF. In the 19 assembly seats falling under Nagaon and Mangaldai Lok Sabha constituencies, Congress and AIUDF will have an upper hand due to consolidation of anti-BJP votes. Likewise in the 15 seats in Barak Valley, Congress-AIUDF will have an edge. The BJP seems at an advantage only in the 5 seats in the three hill districts.”
(With inputs by Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha in Silchar and PTI)