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Kokrajhar exhales after peaceful polls

Kokrajhar, April 24: The Election Commission this evening heaved a huge sigh of relief and so did Dispur as elections to the volatile Kokrajhar constituency was by and large peaceful, barring the killing of a policeman and burning down of a car at Harabangha village in Kokrajhar district today.

The violence was allegedly triggered by rumours of EVM “tampering”.

Kokrajhar was said to be the most challenging of the six constituencies that went to polls today.

The killing of two milkmen on the eve of elections had fuelled apprehensions of widespread trouble. Fearing largescale violence, the district administration and district election office went all out to ensure free and fair elections.

A helicopter was pressed into service to be used in emergencies and for area domination and 21 additional companies of security forces were requisitioned.

During the run-up to the polls, the battle for Kokrajhar seat gradually turned into a fight between those seeking a separate Bodoland and those opposed to its creation.

Assam’s chief electoral officer Vijayendra said holding peaceful polls would not have been possible without the co-operation extended by political parties, which abided by every instruction of the commission, and the hard work of security personnel and polling officials.

“Everyone involved in the process played their role to perfection,” a relieved Vijayendra told The Telegraph this evening. Yesterday, he had said the third and final phase would be the most challenging.

Home commissioner G.D. Tripathi echoed Vijayendra. “Credit must be given to security personnel, polling personnel and the electorate, who came out to vote in large numbers, for peaceful polling,” Tripathi said.

The turnout in Kokrajhar was 78 per cent, as compared to 73.65 per cent in 2009. The last parliamentary elections in 2009 and the BTC polls in 2010 had seen large-scale violence but it came down considerably in the 2011 Assembly elections. “The voters are getting more conscious about their rights,” said a college teacher in Kokrajhar. He also gave credit to the Election Commission for being “tough” this time. “We need to applaud this,” he said.

“The people never want violence. It occurs because of patronage of anti-socials by political parties and leaders, who incite violence for their narrow political gain and to be in power. But now people are becoming more aware of what is right and what is wrong,” said Nipun Basumatary, a student.

Riot-hit flock booths

Riot-affected people turned out in large numbers to cast their votes and choose a leader who would ensure their safety.

“This election holds extra importance for us. We want a government that can ensure our safety,” said Rani Basumatary of Lakhigaon in Gossaigaon subdivision of Kokrajhar district, after casting her vote at Tulsibil LP School.

Samidul Islam of Aaibandar Mushalmanpara said, “I am a bit nervous as I am voting for the first time but at the same time I am happy that my vote will count in choosing a leader and government.”

Lakhigaon and Mushalmanpara were among the worst-affected villages during the Bodo-Muslim riots in the Bodoland Territorial Areas District in July and August 2012, which claimed 103 lives and displaced 4.85 lakh people of both the communities.

“Safety and security is our top concern. It is the duty of the parties and leaders ruling the state and the country to provide security to people. We are not asking for food and shelter, but security for our lives and property. We hope the new government will do that,” said Budhbari Basumatary, an elderly woman from Amingaon, another village affected in the riots.

At Mushalmanpara station, people from both the communities were seen offering water to others. Voting here started late around 10am after a snag was found in the EVM during a mock poll. “There is a sense of insecurity among the people after the riots. We want the new government to see that everyone lives in peace,” said Mohd Akash Ali, a villager.

“Parties and candidates have promised this. We hope they will provide us a normal life,” a voter added