Polling starts for Assam first phase; CM Sonowal, top oppn

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leaders, many ministers in fray Guwahati, Mar 27 (PTI) Voting began at 7 am on Saturday for 47 seats in the first phase of the assembly elections in Assam to decide the fate of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, and a host of ministers and opposition leaders, officials said.

Altogether 264 candidates, including 23 women, are in the fray in the first phase, they said.

A total of 300 companies of security forces have been deployed in the first phase, in which people are voting at 11,537 polling stations across 12 districts of Upper Assam and the Northern Bank of Brahmaputra.

Patrolling has been intensified and strict vigil is being kept in all the vulnerable areas, officials said.

Most of these 47 seats are witnessing a triangular contest between the ruling BJP-AGP alliance, the Congress-led opposition grand alliance and the newly-formed Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP).

Altogether, 81,09,815 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Of them, 40,77,210 are male and 40,32,481 female, while 124 are third gender voters, besides nine overseas voters.

Women polling officials are exclusively conducting the exercise in 479 polling stations.

The polling would continue till 6 pm.

A significant turnout was seen at several booths as the poll began with many choosing to vote early.

Special measures were taken for People with Disabilities (PwD), including the provision of wheelchairs 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 contests' 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.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is trying his luck from Majuli (ST), Speaker of the outgoing assembly Hitendranath Goswami is fighting the elections from Jorhat.

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

Titabor, another high-profile seat that was held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi of the Congress for four successive terms, is witnessing a direct contest between Bhaskar Jyoti Barua of the Congress and former MLA Hemanta Kalita.

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.

Most voters were seen wearing masks amid a resurgent coronavirus, while those arriving without one are being provided at the booths.

Assam is voting in three phases for the 126-member assembly. The votes will be counted on May 2. PTI DG TR ESB SOM SOM