| Polling officials work by candlelight in Tezpur. Picture by UB Photos |
Silchar/Guwahati, Feb. 8: The army has been put on alert in Barak valley districts and in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area in lower Assam to ensure peaceful polling in the third and concluding phase of the panchayat elections on February 12.
Karimganj deputy commissioner Deveswar Malakar told The Telegraph that the army had been out on alert in his district as a routine task for maintaining law and order.
His Cachar counterpart H.K. Deb Mahanta said the army had been asked to patrol the district’s sensitive, trouble-prone and vulnerable areas with the BSF on the eve of the panchayat election.
Sources attributed the developments to the violence in Hailakandi district during the 2008 polls. There were incidents of false voting, ballot dumping and ballot-paper snatching in the Katlicherra and Lala areas of the district, they recalled.
The district got a new deputy commissioner J.V. Balaji on Monday after the Election Commission removed S. Thiek from the post for lapses in connection with nominations to Algapur bypoll, which is scheduled for February 24. Balaji said he was firm on ensuring a free and fair poll in the district this time.
A senior army officer in Masimpur cantonment said the army was generally not deployed in the country during civil elections but its combat troops can always help the administration in case of serious breach of law and order. The army has three stations in Barak valley — Laboc (22 Assam Rifles), Masimpur (57 Mountain Division) and Manipur tea estate (33 field regiment of artillery troops).
Sources said while 14 companies of paramilitary forces would move into Hailakandi, the quota of central and state troops for Cachar and Karimganj districts had been fixed at nine and four companies respectively.
Dispur has declared a 48-hour dry day, from 3pm on Sunday to 3pm on Tuesday, in areas where the panchayat polls will be held.
CMO sources said the state government would also not take any chances in the Rabha Hasong area, given the agitation by Rabha groups against holding of panchayat polls. The state election commission is going ahead with the elections as of now.
State election commissioner Biren Dutta said the Barak valley, specially Hailakandi, and the Rabha Hasong areas were difficult areas. “But I don’t see any problem. Security is more than adequate,” he added.
Today’s repolling, necessitated because of official lapses and sabotage by miscreants during the second phase on February 6, passed off peacefully in seven polling stations, including five in Sonitpur district. The turnout of the second phase (77.71 per cent) had exceeded the first phase (74 per cent).
The third phase has become sensitive because both the ruling Congress and the AIUDF are fighting a high-pitch poll battle in both Barak valley and lower Assam. The Congress is campaigning hard to neutralise the AIUDF, which is using the Kokrajhar riots in July 2011 as its poll plank.
Chief minister Tarun Gogoi today campaigned in Hailakandi town. Before flying into the town in a hired IAF chopper, he addressed poll meetings in Nilambazar and Akbarpur in neighbouring Karimganj district. He promised a string of pro-people rural schemes for the people of Barak valley.