March 27 poll to decide fate of Assam CM, Speaker, top ministers and oppn leaders

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(Eds: Fresh intro, edits throughout) Guwahati, Mar 26 (PTI) The fate of Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Speaker Hitendranath Goswami, state Congress chief Ripun Borah and a host of ministers will be decided on Saturday when polling is held in 47 of the state's 126 assembly seats.

Most of these seats will likely witness triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly formed Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP.

The state will have three-phase assembly elections on March 27, April 1 and 6.

Altogether 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray.

Polling will begin at 7 a.m and conclude at 6 p.m, with the timing extended by an hour to ensure COVID protocols are followed, officials said.

Central forces will assist the state police in maintaining law and order during the polling, a senior police officer said without divulging their numbers. The official said there will be enough security personnel to cover all polling stations.

Patrolling has been intensified and strict vigil is being kept in all vulnerable areas.

Polling and security personnel have started arriving at their places of deployment in constituencies spread over 12 districts of Upper Assam and the northern bank of the Brahmaputra, officials said.

A little over 81.09 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise at 11,537 polling booths, including 1,917 auxiliary polling stations, which have been created to ensure strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols.

Women officials will exclusively conduct the exercise in 479 polling stations.

Special measures have been taken for People with Disabilities (PwD) including provision of wheel chairs at every polling station and E-rickshaws for their commute.

The ruling BJP is contesting 39 seats and its partner AGP 10. The two allies are engaged in friendly contest in Lakhimpur and Naharkatiya constituencies.

The opposition grand alliance is contesting all the seats, with the Congress putting up candidates in 43, and the AIUDF, CPI(ML-L), RJD and Anchalik Gana Morcha (contesting as Independent) in one each.

The newly formed AJP is in the fray in 41 seats, while there are 78 Independents, including 19 candidates of the newly formed Raijor Dal who are also contesting as Independents.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is trying his luck from Majuli (ST) seat where he is locked in a direct contest with three-time former Congress MLA and former minister Rajib Lochan Pegu.

Speaker of the outgoing assembly Hitendranath Goswami is also locked in a direct contest with former Congress MLA Rana Goswami in Jorhat.

Titabor, another high-profile seat that was held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress for four successive terms will likely see a direct contest between Bhaskar Jyoti Barua of the Congress and former MLA Hemanta Kalita. Gogoi, the tallest Congress leader in the state, died last year.

BJP Ministers Ranjit Dutta (Behali), Naba Kumar Doley (Dhakuakha), Jogen Mohan (Mahmora), Terash Gowala (Duliajan) and Sanjoy Kishan (Tinsukia) are all locked in triangular contest with Congress or its alliance partners and the AJP.

AGP Ministers Atul Bora and Keshab Mahanta are in the electoral arena in Bokakhat and Kaliabor.

Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia and state Congress president Ripun Borah are in the fray from Nazira and Gohpur respectively.

Activist and Raijor Dal leader Akhil Gogoi, in jail for his alleged role in the violent anti-CAA protests, is contesting as an Independent from Sivasagar.

AJP president Lurinjyoti Gogoi is contesting from Duliajan and Naharkatiya, and is pitted against Congress and BJP nominees in both the constituencies.

In the first phase, webcasting will be done at 5,772 polling stations identified as vulnerable, critical and sensitive, besides those having a large number of voters.

All voters have been asked to wear masks or will be provided one at the time of voting. COVID-19 mitigation measures like sanitisers, thermal scanners and soap will be available as part of the Assured Minimum Facilities at each polling station, Nitin Khade, the state's chief electoral officer, said. PTI DG JRC SK SK