Assam is all set for the first phase of the panchayat elections on Wednesday in 16 administrative districts, that will see a contest between the coalition partners-- BJP and the AGP-- along with others. Ruling allies--BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)-- are fighting local bodies polls in the state separately and the campaigning witnessed a high-octane war of words between them.
AGP, which has publically opposed the Citizenship Bill, 2016, used Citizenship Bill as one of their main campaign issue in the three-tier panchayat elections in the state. The first phase of the elections will decide the fate of over 43,515 contestants for 15,899 various posts in rural bodies.
Polling will begin at 7 am and continue till 3 pm in the districts of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Tinsukia, Dibrugrah, Sivasagar, Charaideo, Jorhat, Majuli, Golaghat, Nagaon, Biswanath, Sonitpur, Darrang, Morigaon, Kamrup Metro and Kamrup, which together comprise 27 election districts, Assam State Election Commission (ASEC) sources said.
Among the contestants, 796 are in the fray for 251 zila parishad (district panchayat) member seats, 3,799 for 1,304 anchalik panchayat (intermediate panchayat) member seats, 4,155 for 1,304 gaon panchayat (village panchayat) president posts and 34,765 for 13,040 gaon panchayat member seats, the sources said. Altogether 442 candidates have already been declared winners uncontested in the election districts going to polls Wednesday, they said, adding, 250 of them are from the BJP, 106 from the Congress, 15 from the AGP, three from the AIUDF, three from the BPF, besides 65 independents.
Over one lakh security personnel have been deployed for the smooth conduct of the elections during the first phase, with 1,56,255 civil servants also engaged in the poll process, the ASEC sources said.
Assam government employees engaged as polling officials on Tuesday fanned out to their respective assigned voting stations across the state with ballot boxes and other election materials. Campaigning for the first phase of panchayat polls, which ended on Monday, saw the coalition partners voicing sharp words for each other.
AGP accused the BJP of attempting to impose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, in Assam which they said threatened the existence and identity of indigenous people by settling Hindu Bangladeshis in the state, while the saffron party claimed the regional party piggy rode on its back to come to power during the Assembly elections.
The opposition Congress and the AIUDF also campaigned hard for votes. The Wednesday elections for the local bodies would be the first after the state government introduced amendments in the Panchayat Act determining varied minimum qualifications at different levels, imposing two-child norm for the candidates and also introducing toilet at home a mandatory clause for the nominees.
As per the new norms for qualification under the Assam Panchayat (Amendment) Act, 2018, for general candidates, the educational qualification to contest polls for gaon panchayat member is to pass Class 6, for gaon panchayat president and anchalik panchayat member it is Class 10 and for Zila Parishad member it is Class 12, besides mandatorily having a toilet at home. A person having more than two living children, with the third child born after the commencement of the Act, cannot contest the polls.
The Panchayati Raj institutions in Assam is a three-tier one with a village, intermediate and district level comprising 21 zila parishads, 185 anchalik panchayats and 2,201 gaon panchayats. Altogether 1,56,41,456 voters, including 7,51,76,21 females, are expected to exercise their franchise in the two-phase elections to be held on Wednesday and on December 9. For both the phases, there would be 23,505 polling stations with 11,597 of them categorised as comparatively safe, 8,243 sensitive and 3,665 very sensitive, the sources said. The counting of votes will take place on December 12.
(With inputs from agencies.)