Political parties in Assam, including the Opposition, pushed for the upcoming state assembly election to be held before Bihu in April. The pitch was made to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, who is on a three-day visit to Assam to oversee preparations as polls to the 126-member Assam assembly are due in March-April.
The Bharatiya Janata Pary (BJP) demanded a three-phase election schedule – first two in the Brahmaputra Valley and the third in Barak Valley – while ally Asom Gono Parishad (AGP) urged that the process be limited to two phases.
“Rongalee Bihu, which marks the Assamese New Year, is the biggest and most important occasion for the people of Assam. If elections are over before April 14, people can enjoy the festivities with ease,” said senior state BJP leader Jayanta Malla Baruah.
Baruah also heads the Assam Toursim Development Corporation.
Rongali Bihu, also known as Bohag Bihu, is the most important festival in Assam and other northeastern states. Signifying the harvest season, it is celebrated over seven days in the second week of April after Vishuva Sankranti in the month of Vaisakh, locally called ‘Bohag’.
While members of the BJP, AGP, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) were equivocal on the election dates, the AIUDF sought in-camera polling in all booths and demanded that the issue of the Doubtful (D) voters be resolved before polls.
According to government estimates, there are over one lakh D voters in Assam. Coined during the run-up to the implementation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), the term refers to all those whose citizenship is under dispute.
“We also urged the ECI to issue identity cards to 5 lakh new voters in Assam at the earliest and to release the voters’ list as soon as possible, ” said BJP leader Swapnil Baruah.
The election commission team, which arrived in the state on Monday, met Assam CEO Nitin Khade and the Guwahati police nodal officer today. They are scheduled to hold marathon meetings with other political parties, election regulatory agencies, district election officers, state police and various officers of the government bureaucracy to discuss the ground situation in detail, sources said.
The last assembly election in the state was held in two phases in April 2016. The overall voter turnout was 84.72 per cent – 10 per cent higher than the 2011 figure and a new record for Assam.
The results ushered in a change of power as the Congress, which had ruled the state under Tarun Gogoi since 2001, lost to the BJP led by Sarbananda Sonowal.