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Parties unhappy with dates

- Only Assam Cong says polls will add colour to festivities
Assam chief electoral officer Vijayendra in Guwahati on Wednesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati/Silchar, March 5: The big two — BJP and Congress — today voiced disparate views on the three-phase Assam poll schedule announced this morning by the Election Commission: the former deciding to seek a relook while the ruling party welcoming it as it would add to the festive atmosphere.

Assam BJP general secretary Santanu Bharali told The Telegraph they would be writing to the Chief Election Commissioner urging him to postpone voting on April 7 and 12 as the two dates coincide with Ashokastami and Rongali Bihu. The third and last phase is on April 24.

“Ashokastami is on April 7 which is a very auspicious day for Hindus as people take a holy dip in the Brahmaputra. Moreover, people also perform asthi visarjan (dispersal of ashes after cremation) in the river and shradh ceremonies on Ashokastami,” Bharali said.

“As we all know, Rongali Bihu is the main festival of the state, we are apprehensive that there could be a low voter turnout if voting is held on April 7 and 12.”

AGP working president Atul Bora also expressed his displeasure. “Elections should have been held either before or after Bihu as it is the main festival of the state. But now as the election dates have been announced, we cannot do anything about it,” Bora said.

The Left, too, has expressed reservation over the dates saying it would have been better if the polls were held after Bihu in May.

“It is for the commission to decide, but April should have been spared given that the state is in a festive mood,” said Drupad Borgohain, state CPI secretary and candidate from Jorhat Lok Sabha constituency which goes to the polls in the first phase on April 7.

Assam’s chief electoral officer Vijayendra said at a press meet held in Guwahati this evening that those having reservations can approach the Election Commission. “It is not for us to decide,” he said.

Both the BJP and the Congress appear to be the main contenders. While the Congress had won seven seats in 2009, the BJP, in alliance with the AGP, had won four. The AGP had bagged one and the AIUDF and BPF one each.

However, the ruling Congress has welcomed the schedule. “We welcome it. Voting will be over before Bihu in Upper Assam. It will add to the festivities,” chief spokesperson Mehdi Alam Bora said. Five constituencies in Upper Assam and north bank go to the polls in the first phase.

Cachar District Congress Committee president Arun Dutta Mazumdar said: “I don’t think there will be any clash of poll dates with Sankranti and Bengali New Year. As Bihu is not largely celebrated in Barak Valley, there should not be any clash of dates with that.”

Barak Valley, which has two constituencies (Silchar and Karimganj), is Bengali-dominated.

Another Congress source said: “Sankranti and Bengali New Year are on April 14 and 15 while polling is on 12. So there will not be any problem here.”

The AIUDF, too, backed the schedule with its general secretary (organisation) Aminul Islam saying the dates had been suitably worked out keeping in mind the festive season in April.

However, the Trinamul Congress felt the April 12 date be rescheduled to sometime after Bohag Bihu, its state general secretary (administration) and chief spokesperson Kailash Sharma said.

The news conference addressed by Vijayendra saw him admitting to receiving complaints about mistakes in the elector photo identity cards (EPIC) from a few constituencies. But by and large the exercise has been successful.

“There is bound to be some mistakes during such massive exercise. The information in the electoral rolls were reflected in the cards. We had made several requests to the voters to get it corrected. We are happy to share that we got the card prepared at very low cost (Rs 5.18 each) in India and we are also the first to issue coloured cards.”

Vijayendra also said that police were working on the security requirement of the polls and that the number of doubtful voters has remained more or less the same since the 2011 Assembly polls.

Assam will be spending Rs 82 crore on conduct of the polls which will, like the EPICs, also see the debut of 6.28 lakh first-time voters.