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Rabhas set council poll deadline

Dhubri/Guwahati, Dec. 19: The Rabha community today set December 31 as the deadline for Dispur to announce elections to Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council and cancel the holding of panchayat poll in the council area.

The decision was taken at an emergent meeting of a joint forum of 34 Rabha organisations, led by the All Rabha Students’ Union (Arsu), at the office of the Sixth Schedule Demand Committee at Dudhnoi, the headquarters of the autonomous council.

“If the government fails to meet the forum’s twin demands, we will launch a vigorous agitation, including a 36-hour bandh in the council area, from January 3. We will continue with our economic blockades, bandhs and dharnas till our demands are met,” Arsu president Tonkeswar Rabha warned.

Yesterday, a day after the declaration of panchayat election, unidentified persons set ablaze two panchayat offices at Dhanubhanga and Kalyanpur while the Arsu burnt effigies of chief minister Tarun Gogoi, minister of state for welfare of plains tribes and other backward classes Rajib Lochan Pegu and state election commissioner Biren Dutta on NH62 at Damra under Dudhnoi police station in Goalpara district.

Today, the “much-delayed” council poll figured prominently at a meeting of ministers convened by Gogoi at his residence here to discuss the panchayat poll to be held in January and February. The meeting decided to recommend holding of the council poll to the state election commission in April. Gogoi also proposed that the Prithibi Majhi-headed cabinet sub-committee discuss how to go about the job.

Pegu told this correspondent that the sub-committee held its first meeting this afternoon. “It was decided that the polls to all the three councils — Rabha Hasong, Mising and Sonowal Kachari — would be held around the same time. We will hold regular meetings and take all communities living in these areas into confidence before going ahead with the exercise so that there is no scope for misunderstanding.”

Pegu said Gogoi had conveyed to Arsu and other organisations during a meeting on December 13 that Dispur intended to hold the council polls in April-May because a few election-related exercises needed to be completed. Dutta told The Telegraph that the welfare of plains tribes department had said the exercise could not be undertaken without delimitation of constituencies in the council area. Electoral rolls will also have to be prepared, sources said.

In developments related to the panchayat poll, Gogoi asked his ministers to ensure that the party does well in districts under their charge.

Bharat Chandra Narah, press adviser to the chief minister, said, “Strategies were discussed like distribution of tickets after consultation with block presidents, district presidents and the local legislator, and working in tandem with the Assam PCC.”

A notable presence at the meeting was that of Bhumidhar Barman, veteran legislator and adviser (agriculture) to the chief minister, while the prominent absentees included ministers Akon Bora, Pranati Phukan and Siddique Ahmed, the sources said.

Ministers Rakibul Hussain and Ajit Singh said the party would concentrate more in the minority-dominated districts from Nagaon to Dhubri in an apparent bid to check the AIUDF. “We will be seeking votes on the basis of the development work done by our government since 2001,” Singh said.