The first phase of polling for the Assam Assembly has begun on Monday. After the conclusion of the crazy campaigning schedule for phase one on Saturday, an army of over 48,000 polling official amid a security net offered by more than 40,000 security personnel will be conducting the election. This round will cover eight parliamentary constituencies — Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Jorhat, Tezpur, Kaliabor, Karimganj, Silchar and the Autonomous District.
War cry in 65 seats
Out of the 126 Assembly seats in Assam, 65 constituencies vote on Monday to decide the fate of 539 candidates by an electorate of 96,11,732 voters in the first phase. Among the candidates, 63 are women. The voting will take place in 12,190 polling booths covering the whole of Upper Assam (both banks of the Brahmaputra Valley) and the Barak Valley. The poll will also be a first major test for the new alliances comprising of the BJP, Bodoland People's Front (BPF), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Tiwa Jatiya Oikya Manch and Rabha Hasong Jauth Sangram Samity taking on the Congress and United People’s Party (UPP) joint unit.
Among the big guns that are in the fray on Monday are Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Jorhat MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa in Titabor, BJP chief ministerial candidate and Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in Majuli and former state minister Pradyut Bordoloi in Margherita. Moran Assembly seat would see former Union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar locking horns with others while state Education Minister Sarat Barkataky would sweat it out in Sonari. Angkita Dutta, the state's youngest candidate and daughter of Assam Congress president will fight her first electoral battle from Amguri on Monday.
AGP working president Atul Bora will test his destiny in Bokakhat while sitting MLAs Keshab Mahanta and Utpal Dutta will fight in the seats of Kaliabor and Lakhimpur respectively. Former minister Brindaban Goswami will battle it out in Tezpur while Pradeep Hazarika will have his fate locked in Amguri.
Star campaigners galore
In the run-up to the first phase of the Assam Assembly election, the state did witness a steady stream of star campaigners visiting the state including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who addressed seven rallies. A total of 14 choppers had crisscrossed the sky as the star campaigners were in a mad dash to keep pace with time and cover maximum vantage points. Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, Joel Oram, Nitin Gadkari and BJP president Amit Shah campaigned for the BJP in the areas falling under the first phase. For the Congress it was its president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi, CP Joshi, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Raj Babbar who did the marathon star campaigning for the party.
Pradan Barua embarrasses BJP
Perhaps this cannot come at a more inopportune time for the BJP. Less than 24 hours before the first phase of voting in the Assam Assembly polls 2016, BJP candidate from Dhemaji Assembly constituency Pradan Barua just managed to antagonise a major ethnic community in Upper Assam — the Ahoms. The motormouth BJP candidate, who is one of the nine gems loyal to their leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, had quit the Congress to join the BJP last year.
His comment "gela Ahomar vote nelage" (don't need vote of the dirty Ahoms) will surely dent the voting percentage for the BJP, although how much impact it would have on the formation of a new government cannot be ascertained immediately. Barua's irresponsible outburst sparked vociferous protests across different places in Upper Assam with the Tai Ahom Chatra Sanstha leading the charge and appealing to voters to not vote for the BJP.
The BJP already had its hands full on Sunday with a group of 40 intellectuals led by former Gauhati University professor Hiren Gohain appealing to the voters not to allow the lotus to bloom Assam triggering off a major controversy. Barua's statement only complicated the matter for the BJP as the party saw utter discontentment among its members when the Jonai MLA was shifted to Dhemaji.
Women of strength
For this bunch of women, whose electoral fate would be locked in the Electronic Voting Machines on Monday, politics was a sudden platform to show their character, to overcome the tragedy they suffered as their husbands were snatched away untimely by death while in public life.
AGP candidate Sushila Hazarika from Dergaon is the widow of Nalin Hazarika, an AGP candidate who was killed in 1991. Sushila first became an MLA in 1991.
Congress candidate from Khumtai and state Minister Bismita Gogoi was thrown into the political ring after her husband Rupak Gogoi, younger son of former finance minister Jibakanta Gogoi, was burnt alive by labourers of Gobindpur Tea Estate in Golaghat district on 11 February 2005 over nonpayment of wages. Rupak was the proprietor of the tea estate.
For state Minister Ajanta Neog life took a completely different turn when her minister husband Nagen Neog was killed by the United Liberation Front of Assam in 1996. She is contesting again from her Golaghat seat.
Naharkatiya MLA Pronoti Phukan also entered politics in equally tragic circumstances. She suddenly lost her husband Hari Phukan, who was the Dibrugarh District Congress Committee president and a three-time MLA from Naharkatiya.
Rags and riches
According to the National Election Watch, out of the 539 candidates in the first phase, 112 (21 percent) are crorepatis. Among them 36 are from the 65 Congress candidates, 23 out of 54 candidates from BJP, seven out of 11 AGP candidates, two out of nine candidates fielded by NCP, two out of three candidates of BPF and 26 out of 280 Independent candidates.
Two candidates namely Jiten Tanti of CPI(ML)(L) from Teok constituency and Diganta Phukan of Independent from Mariani constituency have declared zero assets in their self sworn affidavits.
It's a dry day, not holiday
Yes, till 5 pm on Monday all liquor shops besides bars and other liquor-selling retail outlets would remain closed as the government has banned selling and consuming of intoxicating liquors even available privately in the 65 Assembly constituencies covered by the first phase of voting.
Don't sit out at home, go and vote.