Softening of Himanta's punishment raises 'big question' on

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ECI's neutrality: CPI(M) Guwahati, Apr 4 (PTI) Coming down heavily on Election Commission's relaxation on campaign ban of BJP minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury on Sunday said there is a 'big question' on the neutrality of the poll panel and it should clear the air on the issue.

Addressing a press conference here, the veteran communist leader claimed the Congress-led Grand Alliance, of which CPI (M) is a constituent, is coming to power in Assam with huge majority and a common minimum programme will be finalised after the formation of the government.

'There is a big question on Election Commission of India's neutrality. We want the ECI to remove this question.

It is not only the poll panel's duty, but a responsibility to the Constitution of India,' Yechury told reporters.

He asserted that Sarma should have been disqualified for making the threatening statements against Bodoland People's Front chief Hagrama Mohilary, but instead 48-hour ban on him from campaigning was reduced to 24 hours on Saturday.

The ECI reduced the ban duration of Sarma after he tendered an 'unconditional apology' and assured the poll panel that he would abide by the provisions of the model code.

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

Yechury also slammed another BJP minister Pijush Hazarika, who allegedly threatened two journalists of dire consequences on the day of the second phase of polling on April 1 for reporting controversial campaign speech of his wife, and wondered why the ECI is not taking any action.

'There was a decision during all party meeting with the ECI that media should not be under pressure. During course of election, media must be protected from undue pressure and it should be allowed to work naturally,' he added.

Like Model Code of Coduct, which is not a law but an understanding between the parties and ECI, this agreement of safety of media should also be strictly enforced, he said.

Hazarika is contesting from Jagiroad constituency. In an audio clip telecast by Assamese news channel Pratidin Time, he was heard talking to the channel's journalist Nazrul Islam and threatened him and another scribe Tulsi Manta of dragging them out of their homes, break their legs and make them 'vanish'.

Police registered two FIRs filed by the two concerned journalists and merged them into one.

The BJP minister has been issued a notice to appear before police and his call recordings have been sent to forensic lab after seizing his mobile phone.

Talking about the poll prospects in Assam, Yechury said: 'There is huge response to the 'Mahajot'. We are seeing tremendous enthusiasm and spontaneity on the ground. It is now sure that Mahajot is forming the next government here.' When asked about the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the 10-party opposition grouping, the CPI(M) leader said it will be finalised once the Grand Alliance is voted to power.

The CPI(M) which has no legislator in Assam at present is contesting on two seats, which will go to vote in the final phase on April 6.

Yechury also attacked the BJP for doing 'communal politics' and appealed to the people to vote against the ruling front in the remaining 40 seats of the third phase on Tuesday.

'The BJP's communal politics will effect Assam for coming several decades. It needs to be defeated at any cost. If we cannot defeat such politics, then the balance and harmony of Assam will be distorted forever,' he warned.

Claiming that most of the 19 lakh people excluded from the National Register of Citizens in Assam are Hindus, Yechury questioned why the BJP is silent on them if the party is really concerned for the community.

'They (BJP) just want to create a binary. I do not think the people of Assam will fall for this trap of Hindu-Muslim binary. I fully believe that BJP is going to face a big surprise in this election,' he said.

The Congress, which was in power for 15 years in Assam since 2001, has formed a Grand Alliance with AIUDF, BPF, CPI (M), CPI, CPI(ML), Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM), RJD, Adivasi National Party (ANP) and Jimochayan (Deori) Peoples Party (JPP) to fight the Assembly election against the BJP-led NDA.

The grouping has 'guaranteed' that if it is voted to power, then a law will be brought in to nullify the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, five lakh government jobs will be given, 200 units of electricity will be free for all, housewives will get Rs 2,000 per month and minimum wages of tea garden workers will be raised to Rs 365. PTI TR SNS SNS