The first phase of the Assam assembly elections, covering 65 seats, saw a voter turnout of 78 per cent, which was higher than that of the 2011 assembly elections, but slightly less than that of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in these seats.
On a day when polling for the first phase passed off peacefully, a bomb blast killed a person in Dudhnoi, where voting will take place in the second phase.
Chabua in Dibrugarh recorded the highest turnout, 85 per cent. Chabua happens to be the constituency that covers Jerai Chakalibhoriya, the village from where hail two top ULFA leaders — Paresh Barua of the anti-talks faction and Anup Chetia of the pro-talks faction. Voting was peaceful also in Margherita where the ULFA’s anti-talks faction had issued a warning asking voters to shun BJP candidate Bhaskar Sarma. “The Paresh Barua faction had also issued a general threat to the BJP and AGP. With foolproof security in place, the first phase passed off peacefully,” said a senior police officer.
“I have voted for change,” said Barun Karmakar, a first-time voter in Titabor, the constituency where three-time chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi is locked in a six-cornered contest. “Many of my friends like Uddipta Saikia, Mridul Sonowal, Mridu Paban Saikia, Bani Karmakar voted for change,” Barun said from Titabor.
Political commentator and Gauhati University professor Nani Gopal Mahanta said the high turnout was a “clear indication” that the opposition BJP-led alliance had scored over the ruling Congress.
“It is a historical fact in Assam that the Congress gains only when the voter turnout is low,” Mahanta said. “Moreover,” he added, “the BJP has a better connect with the young voters who have voted in large numbers today. Votes below the age of 40 years constitute about 64 per cent of Assam’s total electorate. Even if 70 per cent of them have voted for the BJP and its allies, then the Congress stands to lose.”
The turnout in Titabor was 78 per cent; the Congress said CM Gogoi would win comfortably . “There is no question of Gogoi Sir losing. Titabor has voted in more numbers than last time in his favour,” claimed his chief election manager Kumud Kachari. Gogoi, who had won without any major contest in the past three elections, is facing a tough contest for the first time. The BJP has fielded Jorhat MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa against him. Both Gogoi and Tasa, incidentally, cast their votes in Jorhat.
Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Anjan Dutta too claimed that the people had largely voted for the Congress party. “We will win at least 50 of the 65 seats in the first phase. The people have voted for us and not for the BJP-led alliance. Why would people vote for an alliance that is full of contradictions?” Dutta said. He dismissed claims by the BJP-led alliance that people had voted for change.
In Majuli, where the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Sarbananda Sonowal is in a four-cornered contest, the turnout stood at a little over 80 per cent until last reports came in. “Some polling stations are located in remote areas that can be reached only by boats. The final polling percentage might go up,” said additional chief electoral officer Nitin Khade.
“Majuli has voted in large numbers for Sonowal. He should win with a margin of over 40,000 votes against sitting MLA Rajib Lochan Pegu of the Congress,” said Sonowal’s chief campaigner Hem Chandra Doley over the telephone. Doley alleged that the Congress candidate himself was involved in assault of some BJP workers and a local TV reporter in outside one of the polling stations.
AGP spokesman Dilip Patgiri said the high voter turnout was definitely indicative of victory for the alliance. “If a high voter turnout is any indication, then our alliance has swept the first phase,” Patgiri said. The AGP has eight candidates in the first phase, who include president Atul Bora (Bokakhat), former president Brindaban Goswami (Tezpur) and former deputy speaker in the assembly Renupoma Rajkhowa (Teok).
“Tribal people in interior areas of Majuli island came out in large numbers early in the morning because they had to go to work in the fields. Though the government had declared a holiday for government offices and institutions, farmers and daily-wagers have no such holidays,” said Bipul Saikia, a local journalist in Majuli.