April 24: The heat was unprecedented. So was the turnout in today’s third and final phase of polls in six of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam.
The by and large peaceful polling was, however, marred by the death of a policeman in Kokrajhar and of a civilian in Boko besides complaints of EVM malfunctioning.
Gauhati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta, Nawgong, Dhubri and Mangaldoi went to polls today from 7am to 5pm, registering a 77.05 per cent turnout till 5pm, a feat described by the chief electoral officer of Assam as “unprecedented” in terms of voter count. Of the six seats, the ruling Congress holds one, the BJP three and the AIUDF and BPF one each. The voter turnout in these constituencies was 71.26 in 2009.
People flocked to the booths even on a day the state capital broke a 15-year record by registering its hottest day in April — 40.6 degrees Celsius. The highest so far this month was 40.1 degrees Celsius on April 21.
The Regional Meteorological Centre at Borjhar recorded 28.8 degrees Celsius at 7.30am in the city, 39 degrees Celsius at 12.30pm and 39.6 degrees Celsius at 2pm. There was an early morning rush to beat the searing heat. As the mercury rose, there was a sudden dip in the number of voters after noon, but the trend reversed after 3pm. Guwahati recorded a 74 per cent voter turnout at 5pm, a record for a city which is by and large indifferent to elections. The turnout was 64.32 in 2009.
The situation was similar in the other constituencies. In Dhubri, which also went to the polls today, the temperature was 38.2 degrees Celsius. Sources in the weather office said though the temperature in Mangaldoi, Nawgong, Kokrajhar and Barpeta was not officially recorded, the figure was above 38 degrees Celsius in all these places.
Gita, 35, a resident of Nawgong constituency, reached Thiatangoni polling station at 6am to find she was about 160 voters too late. “I got up at dawn and finished all my morning chores so that I could cast my vote first but I found myself at the end of a long queue,” she said. According to her, people’s desire for change had made them over-enthusiastic, given the long queues since two hours before polling began.
The voter turnout in the first phase and second phase of polls in Assam was 78.72 and 76.33 respectively. Polls were held in Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Kaliabor and Lakhimpur on April 7 and in Silchar, Karimganj and Diphu on April 12.
There were glitches in 46 EVMs in the constituencies but the machines were replaced immediately. Sources in the state election department said there was law and order problem in eight polling booths, mostly in Kokrajhar. Repolling might be conducted in these booths. There are reports that polling continued beyond 5pm in some polling stations, including one in Sijubari area in Guwahati because of heavy rush of voters.
In Nawgong seat, there was EVM malfunctioning in Singabari polling station in Raha Assembly segment and Chapanalla polling station in Barhampur Assembly segment.
Though polling was by and large peaceful in Kokrajhar, the “most challenging constituency” in the state, a constable of 4th Assam police battalion, Pinku Rahang, was killed. Three others, sector officer assistant sub-inspector Unush Ali Ahmed, constable Nileswar Ray and havildar Pradip Ray, were injured during poll duty at Harabangha in Gossaigaon subdivision in Kokrajhar district. The polling station where the incident took place was considered “safe”.
Sources said violence took place after rumours spread that there was a technical snag in the EVM and votes were going in favour of a particular party. A section of voters demanded that polling officials open the voting machine and show them. When the officials refused, the protesters damaged the EVM, vandalised the polling station and manhandled polling officials. When the sector officer and the police personnel tried to intervene, they were attacked with sticks and other blunt objects, killing one constable and injuring three others. The miscreants also snatched two Insas rifles belonging to police personnel.
BTAD inspector-general of police L.R. Bisnoi said the attack seemed intentional as damaging of EVMs and vandalising of polling stations were simultaneously done in five polling stations — Harabangha, Kumguri, Mudhujar, Jumanatari, Balajan Part-I and Balajan Part-II. Polling was stopped in all these places. As many as 68 additional companies of security personnel were deployed in the six constituencies.
In another incident of violence, a WagonR was set on fire at Madhujhora near Harabangha in Kokrajhar constituency. There was 78 per cent voter turnout in Kokrajhar till 5pm. In neighbouring Barpeta, the maximum turn-out was between 7am and 9am. Polling gained momentum here once again after 2pm.
Bhadar Sutradhar, 65, who became a refugee in an ethnic clash in the Bodo belt in 1989, and is now settled at Phulkumari refugee camp in Bidyapur area in Bongaigaon district under Barpeta seat, said he was expecting a change of government at the Centre and hoped that the change would bring good news.