| United Democratic Party supporters hold a rally in Shillong on Thursday, the last day of campaigning. Picture by UB Photos |
Shillong, Feb. 21: As the clock struck 4pm, campaigning across Meghalaya for Saturday’s polls came to a grinding halt with the state government promising the people “free, fair and peaceful polls”. The election will be conducted in the face of the 36-hour bandh called by the proscribed Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).
The outfit has called for a boycott of the polls by announcing a 36-hour bandh beginning at 6pm tomorrow till 6am on Sunday throughout the Khasi-Jaintia hills.
But the state government does not expect a poor turnout on Saturday after meeting representatives of four political parties here this afternoon, although it has ruled out providing transport to ferry voters to polling stations.
“Since the HNLC has been neutralised in East Khasi Hills and Jaintia hills, we do not really apprehend that they will come in large numbers to physically obstruct the voters. But some voters may choose not to come out of their houses to exercise their franchise due to fear,” Meghalaya director-general of police Prem Singh told reporters here today.
Altogether, 91 companies of central paramilitary forces are making their presence felt across the state, 44 of them in the five districts of Garo hills alone, to thwart any attempt on the part of militant outfits and other groups to disrupt the election.
On Saturday, a total of 15,03,907 voters (15,02,509 general voters and 1,398 service electors) under 2,485 polling stations in 11 districts will elect 60 members to the Legislative Assembly from among 345 candidates.
From the 2,485 polling stations, 900 have been identified as hyper-sensitive, and most of these are located in the Garo hills.
Additional chief secretary Barkos Warjri said although the government has not received any confirmation on whether the bandh call was real or a mere rumour, security arrangements have been made to ensure peaceful, free and fair polls.
“We have adequate forces and we are putting sufficient strength in all the polling stations. In addition, we have mobile squads and strike forces in each of the districts,” Warjri said.
“We can assure the public that we are taking every step to ensure peaceful elections,” he added.
Asked whether transport would be provided to ferry voters to polling stations, Warjri replied in the negative. He said there were restrictions on political parties and candidates that prevented them from fetching voters to polling booths.
He said security would be provided to polling parties right from the time they move for their destination until the time they put the electronic voting machines into the strong room.
On the Indo-Bangladesh border, the additional chief secretary said the BSF has been given instructions to maintain tight security along the frontier.
The DGP said the BSF has put all the border outposts along the border on maximum alert and requested their Bangladeshi counterparts to step up vigilance to ensure that nobody, especially HNLC cadres, was allowed to infiltrate into Meghalaya.
On the inter-state boundary, principal secretary (home) K.S. Kropha said Assam had assured Meghalaya of support to ensure free and fair polls.