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Cong has last laugh on RS poll eve

Guwahati, Feb. 6: The Opposition alliance enters tomorrow’s high-stake Rajya Sabha polls in Assam with a huge disadvantage as one of its members, AIUDF legislator Ataur Rahman Mazarbhuiya, will not be able to make it in time to cast his vote.

Mazarbhuiya’s no-show, a subject of hot discussion these last few days, was confirmed by one of his aides in Silchar at 3.30pm, much ahead of the 5pm deadline set by health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to make public how the ruling Congress-BPF alliance would win all three seats.

Voting for the three Rajya Sabha seats will be held at the Assam Assembly here from 9am till 4pm.

The Opposition AGP, AIUDF and BJP are backing the Independent candidate, eminent journalist Haidar Hussain, who will be directly pitted against BPF’s Biswajit Daimary for the third seat.

The Congress has fielded Bhubaneswar Kalita and Sanjay Singh as its first and second preference candidates, the decision conveyed to Kalita by chief minister Tarun Gogoi this evening through parliamentary affairs minister Nilamani Sen Deka. The Congress’s excess vote will go to the BPF’s kitty.

Samsul Haq Chowdhury, president of Katigora unit of the Congress, told The Telegraph that Mazarbhuiya had telephoned him at 1.30 this afternoon to inform him of his inability to cast his vote tomorrow as he would be in Mecca for Haj.

“Mazarbhuiya sahab’s passport is currently with his travel agent who will return it to him only tomorrow to ensure his return to India. He has asked me to communicate this matter to his party leadership,” Chowdhury said. Mazarbhuiya is the AIUDF MLA from Katigora constituency in Cachar district.

Though the Opposition camp put up a brave front, a visit to their respective offices in the Assembly reflected the gloom and despair that had descended on them following the Majarbhuyia development. Both the BJP and the AIUDF offices were deserted this evening while AGP president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta held fort along with other senior leaders of the party.

Mahanta did not want to comment on Mazarbhuiya, saying his party was still depending on the AIUDF.

AIUDF president Badruddin Ajmal reacted to the development by saying stern action would be taken against Mazarbhuiya if he did not turn up. Another AIUDF legislator, A.R. Khan, said the Opposition alliance now has 31 MLAs. Both remarks suggested that the AIUDF has given up on Mazarbhuiya.

The ruling alliance has decided to cast 32 votes each for the first two candidates and 30 for the third, enough, according to returning officer Gauranga Prasad Das, to see him through on the basis of second preference votes of the combine.

The ruling camp remained bullish. It conducted a mock voting exercise to ensure no MLA made any error. The MLAs of the ruling party alliance were given slips mentioning whom to vote for.

The day was eventful otherwise too.

Various organisations — the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti, the All Assam Students’ Union and the Asam Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad — continued to protest against the fielding of Sanjay Singh, a Congress MP from Uttar Pradesh, in Assam.

KMSS activists tried to lay a siege to the Assembly here while the AASU took out protest marches and the AJYCP resorted to a hunger strike and took out torchlit processions across the state.

KMSS president Akhil Gogoi said his organisation had been protesting against Singh’s nomination from the beginning and would continue to do so. “Today we appealed to all members of the Assembly, including the Congress, to use their conscience and refrain from casting their votes in favour of Singh for the greater interest of the people of Assam,” he said.

On January 29, KMSS members had attempted to enter Singh’s room at a hotel in the city in protest against his candidature.

Though there was no official word on whether Singh would be present during voting, Congress insiders said tonight he was expected to reach Guwahati “anytime” tomorrow.