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Panel chief to verify charges

- BJP points partisan finger at state election commission

Guwahati/Dhubri, Feb. 5: Assam is set for the second of its three-phase panchayat elections tomorrow amidst rising political temperature with the state BJP accusing the state election commission of acting in a partisan manner.

State BJP president Sarbananda Sonowal alleged that despite Opposition parties lodging several complaints of violation of the poll code of conduct, rigging and violence against the ruling Congress, the commission had not taken prompt and appropriate action. “It seems the commission is not functioning in an impartial manner,” he said.

State election commissioner Biren Dutta subtly hit back by asking how many complaints had been lodged with the commission and when were these complaints filed.

“They had made a few suggestions about how to go about things. There was no complaint. Where is the scope to manipulate? There has to be a reason to manipulate. The SEC does not get a second term!” Dutta said half in jest. He also said he would initiate action only after verifying the allegations so as not to get caught on the wrong foot.

The BJP’s allegations come a day after the AGP moved the commission, demanding measures to ensure free and fair panchayat polls. AGP president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta had yesterday alleged that the Congress-led government had used the state administrative machinery to rig the polls in the first phase on January 30 and would also try to manipulate the counting process. The first phase had seen a turnout of around 74 per cent.

As many as 30.41 lakh voters will exercise their franchise in the second phase, which, Dutta hoped, would be as peaceful as the first. Voting will be held in 6,699 polling stations for the posts of 5,980 gaon panchayat members, 598 gaon panchayat presidents, 598 anchalik panchayat members and 121 zilla parishad members in nine districts, including Dibrugarh, Sonitpur, Darrang, Nalbari, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Kamrup, Kamrup (metro) and Morigaon.

The second phase has seen all the leading parties such as the Congress, the AIUDF, the BJP and the AGP go all out to woo voters and it will only intensify for the third phase to be held on February 12.

Chief minister Tarun Gogoi has himself campaigned aggressively in the second round. Health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who has been keeping a low profile since his fallout with Gogoi, parliamentary secretary Bhupen Kumar Borah, forest minister Rakibul Hussain, senior legislator Bhumidhar Barman and PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita have been the other notable campaigners for the Congress in this round.

The campaign for this phase saw a political activist being killed in Sonitpur district and an assault on police in Nagaon district.

Dutta said a polling official, who had some health problems, died in Morigaon district today while receiving polling material.

Gogoi said at a poll rally in Bangalipara near Bilasipara town in Dhubri district today that the AIUDF cannot take up any development or do good for the people.

“Ajmal comes to me with khejur (dates) to plead for a bridge from Dhubri to Phulbari but he gives only sour mangoes to voters. Only the Congress is the real saviour of minority people and is doing a lot of work for their all-round development and the country. Ajmal is only exploiting the community.”

Gogoi also addressed a meeting at Fakirganj in Dhubri district.

“The second phase will mainly see a contest between the Congress and its rebels and the Congress and the AIUDF,” a Congressman said.

The Congress is sure of winning around 70 per cent of the seats as is AIUDF, a major challenger in lower Assam.