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Assam set for phase two of poll battle

On Monday, 8.2 mn voters will decide the fortunes of 482 candidates. Pics

india Updated: Apr 08, 2006 10:42 IST

The stage is set for the second and final phase of voting in the Assam assembly poll on Monday with political parties making a last ditch effort to woo voters.

"We are all prepared for the final stage of voting," Assam's Chief Electoral Officer JP Prakash said.

The first of the two-stage elections to the 126-member assembly concluded April 3 with an estimated 68 per cent of the 9.2 million voters exercising their franchise in 65 of the 126 constituencies. A total of 515 candidates contested in the first phase.

On Monday, some 8.2 million voters will decide the fortunes of 482 candidates in 61 constituencies.

The battle lines are drawn with the Congress party taking on the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) for political supremacy.

The Congress is harping on the theme of peace, development and protection to genuine Indian minorities, while the opposition is trying to whip up the sensitive issue of Bangladeshi illegal infiltration.

"Our main issue is to expose the Congress party, which is trying to protect the interests of Bangladeshi infiltrators," said president of the Assam unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indramoni Bora.

The Congress, on the other hand, is trying to hijack the mother of all issues - the dragging insurgency problem.

"This is the first time in two decades when we are having a violence free poll with people having already voted fearlessly in the first phase of elections," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said.

"It is the Congress government that has restored peace in Assam by opening talks with the militant groups."

Three of Assam's most dreaded rebel outfits, the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), are engaged in peace now.

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 Indian government.

"Can the AGP or the BJP take credit for this sincere effort in solving insurgency," the chief minister asked.

The AGP is fighting the poll on the same issue as the BJP although the regional party is dogged by internal revolts after suffering a vertical split last year with its founder and two-time chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta forming a breakaway faction after being expelled for alleged anti-party activities.

Among the prominent candidates whose fate would be decided on Monday include the leader of Assam's main opposition AGP Brindaban Goswami, being projected as a chief ministerial candidate.

"I am confident of the AGP winning the poll and forming the next government," Goswami said.

Other prominent players in the electoral battle are the BJP and the newly floated Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), a Muslim-based party.

The last few days of electioneering for the final phase saw a host of important leaders campaigning aggressively to win the support of the people.

From Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and several high profile actors like Jaya Bachchan thronged Assam.

"The Congress is the only party that can provide peace and stability to the state," Gandhi told an election rally.

The opposition, however, accused the ruling Congress in Assam of failing on "all fronts" and encouraging corruption.

"The Congress is trying to hoodwink the people by telling a pack of lies. Their promises are hollow and their performance was near zero," said AGP leader Apurba Bhattacharyya.

Counting of votes takes place on May 11.

First Published: Apr 08, 2006 09:01 IST