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Assam all set to go to polls on Monday

First of the two-phase polls to the 126-member Assembly will be held with 65 seats going to hustings. State polls in pics

india Updated: Apr 03, 2006 08:25 IST
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)

Authorities in Assam are using all modes of conveyance from motorcars to bullock carts, elephants and even country boats to carry officials and poll material for the first phase of the assembly polls on Monday.

"Everything is in place and most of the polling officials have reached the election booths," Assam's chief election officer J Prakash said.

On Monday, the first of the two-stage elections to the 126-member Assembly will be held with 65 constituencies going to the hustings to decide the fate of 515 candidates. The second phase takes place on April 10.

"We have hired the services of at least 10 elephants, about 50 bullock carts, some two dozen country boats and a few motorboats to carry polling personnel, electronic voting machines and other essentials," another election official said.

Around 100 polling stations are located in inaccessible and rough terrain that can be reached either by trekking, riding on elephant backs or crossing the small streams and rivers surrounding some areas by boats.

"In some places the election officials and security personnel travel by vehicles up to a certain point and then load the voting machines and other essentials on elephant back or on to bullock carts to reach the polling stations," Kamrup district magistrate Ganesh Kalita said.

In the second phase, 482 candidates are in the fray in 61 assembly constituencies. A total of 17.43 million voters out of Assam's 26 million people are eligible to exercise their franchise.

In the first phase of polling on Monday, some 9.2 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots. Among prominent candidates whose fate would be decided on Monday include Assam Chief Minister and leader of the Congress party Tarun Gogoi, besides several opposition leaders, including former central minister and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Bijoya Chakraborty.

"I am confident of the Congress party winning the polls," Gogoi, who is seeking re-election from the Titabor seat in eastern Assam, said.

The battle lines are drawn with the Congress taking on the main opposition Asom Gana Parishad for political supremacy.

Authorities are comparatively relaxed ahead of the polls with the risk of rebel attacks on election candidates and polling personnel rather low. 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 imposed sunset laws -- telling candidates not to campaign after dusk for fear of attacks by outlawed separatist groups.

Fear gripped candidates and their supporters then, 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.

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 New Delhi.

First Published: Apr 02, 2006 11:16 IST