| Armed members of the Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Forum block a road at Bardamala in Goalpara on Monday. Picture by UB Photos |
Feb. 11: The state election commission and Dispur appear determined to go through the third and final phase of panchayat election tomorrow in the restive Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area despite reports of arson.
State election commissioner Biren Dutta told The Telegraph that there could be no “second thoughts” on holding of polls as it was a constitutional obligation. He appealed for peace and cooperation.
Senior officials in the chief minister’s office said the government was determined to help the election commission in all possible manner and that the army had been kept on standby in both the council and Barak valley, another sensitive area.
Dispur held a security review meeting this evening to discuss strategies to tackle the situation. An official said it was a test of nerves but Dispur was firm on going ahead with the polls.
Sources associated with the election process said polling personnel under threat in the council area, comprising Goalpara and 40 per cent of Kamrup districts, would take their position in the remote areas before voting starts at 7am.
“In some areas, polling personnel have been kept at one place for security reasons and will move out to the polling booths with adequate security early in the morning. The polling will go ahead as scheduled,” a source said, indicating the ground situation.
The council area has been on the boil with the Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Committee, an umbrella organisation of 34 groups, opposing the holding of panchayat polls there.
Since last night, 22 official establishments, including 13 polling stations, wooden bridges and trucks have been torched.
The Goalpara subdivisional agriculture office near Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council headquarters in Dudhnoi, the Singri weekly market under Boko police station in Kamrup district, two trucks at Bondapara under Boko and another at Kharkhari under Chhaygaon police station, also in Kamrup district, and a bike at Dhanubhanga in Goalpara district were damaged in the arson.
The impact of the public curfew that got under way today was also felt across the council area as all the shops remained closed while roads, including the three national highways — NH 37, NH 51 and NH 62, wore a deserted look. All the trains were cancelled on the Kamakhya-Jogighopa route and diverted through Rangiya junction from New Bongaigaon, sources said.
A Goalpara police officer said protesters belonging to Rabha organisations blocked a road at Khardang near Krishnai for more than three hours, disrupting traffic. A road was also blocked in Chaygaon. “The situation is under control and we are taking every step for smooth conduct of the poll,” he added.
Non-Rabha organisations said they would co-operate for smooth holding of the panchayat election and take part in the poll tomorrow.
All Rabha Students’ Union vice-president Jiban Rabha thanked all sections of people for their unflinching support to their movement.
Like the Rabha council area, the three districts of Barak valley, especially Hailakandi in south Assam, are other flashpoints in the third phase. The army is on standby there too. The last batches of polling staff reached their assigned locations in the three districts by this afternoon, sources said. Four boats and two elephants have been pressed into service in Karimganj and Hailakandi districts for carrying the poll personnel to the polling booths tucked away in the remote areas. This morning, the inter-district bus station in Silchar looked deserted with no vehicles parked there.
Altogether 45,66,777 voters will exercise their franchise tomorrow to elect 135 zilla parishad members, 744 anchalik panchayat members, 7,440 gaon panchayat ward members and 744 gaon panchayat presidents. There are in all 7,940 polling stations.