Govt sticks to poll schedule

Guwahati/Dhubri, Jan. 24: The Prithibi Majhi-headed cabinet sub-committee today wanted the holding of both the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council election and panchayat poll in the council area "in time" even as violence marked the first day of the 72-hour bandh called by Rabha groups seeking the holding of council election first.

The state election commission has already announced the dates for both the panchayat election (February 12) in the council area covering parts of Kamrup and Goalpara districts and also the date for the council poll (April 30).

Rajiv Lochan Pegu, minister for welfare of plains tribes and backward classes, told The Telegraph that the commission had already announced the schedule for the two elections and that the committee hoped that it will be held in time.

"We also appeal to the Rabha groups to understand the sentiments of everyone living in the council area. We have already met the demand for holding council polls," he said.

Majhi, indicating the government's toughening stand, said most people wanted both the polls and the government would take stern action against those trying to disrupt it. Besides committee members Majhi, Pegu, Nilamani Sen Deka, additional director-general of police Khagen Sarma, home department officials, the deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of Kamrup and Goalpara districts also attended the meeting that lasted more than an hour.

Reacting to the sub-committee's decision to go ahead with the two elections, Arsu general secretary Jiban Rabha said they would intensify their movement to oppose the panchayat polls. "After the 72-hour bandh, we will start rail and road blockade from January 28 to January 31 which will be followed by total civil disobedience movement from February 4-12," Rabha said.

But the council area continued to remain on the edge. Incidents of arson marked day one of the 72-hour Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area bandh called by the Rabha Hasong Joint Movement Forum from this morning.

The impact of the bandh was felt on all the National Highways that traverse the council area with no vehicular traffic on NH 37, NH 51 and NH 62 while all business establishments remained closed.

At least two motorcycles were torched at Goraimari in Goalpara district and several cars damaged in stone pelting by bandh supporters on national highways 51 and 62. Two Arsu activists, suspected to be involved in arson in Goalpara, were arrested.

A source in the forum said holding panchayat election in the autonomous council area ahead of the council polls made no sense whatsoever.

President of Garo Students' Union, Frylene R. Marak, while supporting the forum's move, said GSU as well as other Garo organisations like the All Garo Women's Federation and All the Garo Sahitya Sabha were part of the forum and were extending their support as council election would protect the interests of their community.

"Election in the autonomous council area will fulfil the political and economic rights of the indigenous people living there as there will be representation of their communities," Marak pointed out.

However, Garo National Council is against holding council election in Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council area and has, instead, demanded a separate autonomous council for the Garos, while favouring panchayat election.

GNC president Benedict Areng said there were 382 villages in the council area where Garos were in a majority with a population of 2 lakh. He said they wanted panchayat election and would field Independent candidates in Garo-inhabited villages. "We will continue to fight for a Garo autonomous council as being part of the Rabha council will not protect the interest of Garo and Khasis," he said.

Areng expressed resentment over the loss of business because of frequent bandhs in the council area.

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