EC set on polls, lower Assam boils

Guwahati/Dhubri, Feb. 9: The Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area in lower Assam remained on the boil over holding of panchayat polls there on February 12 but the government and the state election commission, too, appeared equally determined to see the exercise through. For the second straight day, arson rocked Goalpara district, which along with around 40 per cent of Kamrup district, constitutes the council area.

A vehicle of a zonal election officer, Robin Chandra Mahanta, was torched while a police Gypsy was damaged this morning by aggrieved villagers belonging to the Rabha community at Bardamala under Agia police station of Goalpara district.

Last night, the house of Sanat Sarma, a candidate contesting the rural poll in Bapunagar, was torched while 15 shops, a weekly market shed and a truck carrying LPG cylinder were attacked with petrol bombs by suspected supporters of organisations opposing the panchayat poll.

A source in Agia said a mob of nearly 5,000 villagers, which hit the street protesting against alleged police atrocities, stopped the Tata Sumo of the polling official and set it on fire after asking its occupants to disembark. "Stones were hurled at a police Gypsy which arrived at the scene," he said.

Though Goalpara superintendent of police Shaymal Prasad Saikia and additional superintendent of police Sushanta Biswa Sarma rushed to the spot with forces, villagers stood by their demand: stop police raids and atrocities at nights. Fear of more violence in the run-up to the poll in the volatile area was rife, especially with the 36-hour public curfew in the area called by the Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Forum (RHJMF) from February 11 to foil the rural poll.

The public curfew will begin from 7am on February 11 and continue till 7pm on February 12.

According to some in the state administration, the violence has been "orchestrated" by a group of people with vested interests.

"This group has everything to gain from an ad hoc administrative arrangement in the council for the simple reason that the accountability for the money coming in would be less," an official said. The group basically intends to push back not just the panchayat election but also the council election to be held on April 30, sources said.

No council election has been held since its formation in 1995. This time the court had asked the state government to take steps to hold it within six months. Rabha groups have already flayed the government for not paying heed to their "justified" demands to hold the council polls first.

They have remained steadfast in their opposition to the rural poll. CMO sources said all possible steps, precautionary and preventive, were being taken to ensure order in the area during and after elections. Backroom talks with Rabha groups opposed to the polls were also on to ensure peaceful polling.

Government spokesperson Rakibul Hussain today said Dispur had "appealed" to the groups opposed to panchayat election to co-operate as it has already announced dates for the council polls. Officials said forces from Mizoram and Bengal have been requisitioned for the rural polls as the third phase will see election in sensitive lower Assam and Barak Valley districts.

Central paramilitary forces have been deployed in BTAD, Kamrup and Goalpara districts. "The army has also been kept on standby in the council area to deal with the law and order situation," the official said.

Campaigning for the third phase on February 12 has peaked with both chief minister Tarun Gogoi and PCC chief Bhubaneswar Kalita campaigning in Barak Valley. Kalita today also directed five political heavyweights from Dima Hasao district to go campaigning in tribal pockets of Barak valley.

The five included Dima Hasao district autonomous council chief Debajeet Thaosen and former Rajya Sabha member Prakanta Warissa, three council executive members L. Hmar, S.T. Zem Hrangkhol and N. Hengna. Both Thaosen and Warissa are from the Dimasa community while Hmar, Hrangkhol and Hengna represents communities which have influence in entire Barak valley.

Assam power minister Pradyut Bordoloi, while addressing three election rallies in Agomoni, Golokganj and Harirhat of Dhubri district today made a scathing attack on AIUDF chief Badruddin Ajmal and termed his politics of jhar-phuk (black magic).

"In this modern age, Ajmal's jhar-phuk politics has no role, AGP is a hypocrite party and BJP is corrupt. There is no alternative to the Congress as the party is at the Centre and the state, so vote Congress for development," Bordoloi said. Parliamentary secretary Bhupen Bora, too, addressed a number of rallies in South Salamara constituency today.

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