Assam polls: Congress holds protest over EVM row

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Guwahati, Apr 3 (PTI) Following a controversy over a polling team in Assam carrying an EVM in the vehicle belonging to the wife of a BJP candidate, the Congress on Saturday held a protest against the incident and alleged that the ruling party in the state is indulging in electoral manipulation.

Amid slogan-shouting by the party workers, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Ripun Bora urged the Election Commission to take strict action against the BJP leaders who carry out illegal activities that hamper the polling process.

The protest rally was not allowed to move forward on the busy arterial G S Road and stopped at the gate of the state Congress headquarters 'Rajiv Bhawan'.

Bora submitted a memorandum to Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime and Law and Order) Debaraj Upadhaya to send it to the Office of Chief Electoral Officer of the state.

Violence had broken out in Karimganj district of Assam on Thursday night after a crowd spotted the BJP candidate's vehicle being used to transport a polled EVM to the strong room, forcing the police to fire in the air to bring the situation under control.

The incident snowballed into a huge controversy on Friday morning with the opposition Congress and AIUDF alleging that the EVM was being 'stolen', prompting the Election Commission to suspended four poll officials and order a repoll at the booth as a video of the fiasco went viral on social media.

According to a district official, the vehicle of the polling party of the 149-Indira MV School in the Ratabari constituency broke down on its way to the strong room in Karimganj town, and they took a lift on a private car.

Incidentally, the car was registered under the name of the wife of the sitting BJP MLA from Patharkandi Krishnendu Paul who is seeking re-election from the same seat this time, the official had said.

Ratabari is currently represented by BJP MLA Bijoy Malakar, who is contesting the election as well.

'Krishnendu Paul was found carrying an EVM in his car.

This was done in violation of the Election Code of Conduct and the laws laid down under the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951,' Bora said, citing his party's memorandum.

He also alleged that people found several EVMs in a vehicle not requisitioned for election purpose near Hatipura polling station in Diphu town.

'Several voting machines were also seized in Jamunamukh constituency when being carried by government officials without security personnel. An EVM was missing from a polling booth in Kalaigaon segment,' the Congress claimed in its representation to the CEO.

Congress Campaign Committee chairman Pradyut Bordoloi said, 'We urged the EC to uphold the sanctity of political representation in a democracy and take action against the glaring misuse of power by the ruling regime in Assam.' 'The party and the people are convinced that the BJP is rattled, that is why it is resorting to treachery to win the elections,' he alleged.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission reduced the 48-hour campaign ban imposed on Assam minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma to 24 hours after he tendered an 'unconditional apology' and assured the poll panel that he will abide by the provisions of the model code.

The BJP leader now can start campaigning from Saturday evening.

He was on Friday initially barred from campaigning- related activities till April 4 for allegedly making threatening remarks against Bodoland People's Front (BPF) chief Hagrama Mohilary.

The Congress had approached the EC demanding action against Sarma for his remark that Mohilary would be sent to jail through central probe agency NIA if he does 'extremism' with rebel leader M Batha.

The BPF is an ally of the Congress in Assam. It was previously with the BJP.

Canvassing for the third and final phase of Assam assembly elections comes to an end on the evening of April 4.

The final phase of polling will be held on April 6.

The Assam Congress chief also urged the poll panel to take action against state minister Pijush Hazarika who allegedly threatened two journalists for reporting about a controversial campaign speech by his wife.

The minister is contesting from the Jagiroad constituency where polling took place in the second phase on Thursday. PTI ESB BDC BDC