Stage set for Assam's final phase of polling in 40 seats on

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Tuesday; Himanata, Dass in fray Guwahati, Apr 5 (PTI) Assam is all set to witness direct and triangular contests in 40 assembly constituencies that are going to polls in the last of the three phases on Tuesday to decide the fate of 337 candidates, including senior minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, his five cabinet colleagues and BJP state unit president Ranjeet Kumar Dass.

A direct contest between nominees of the BJP-led NDA and Congress-headed Grand Alliance is on the cards in 20 constituencies while there is a triangular fight, including friendly contests, in the remaining seats with the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) being considered as the third force.

The newly floated AJP is contesting in 22 seats while there are 126 independents in the fray in the final phase of the election in which the BJP-led coalition is seeking to return to power for the second term in a row.

Polling will begin at 7 am and end at 6 pm, with the timing extended by an hour to ensure that COVID protocols are maintained in the constituencies spread across 12 districts.

There are 25 women candidates contesting in this phase.

The fate of 20 sitting MLAs - eight from the Congress, five from the BJP, three each from the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) and the BPF and one from the AGP -- will be decided in the final phase.

The first two phases of the election were held on March 27 and April 1. Votes will be counted on May 2.

The BJP is contesting in 20 seats while its allies the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in nine and the United Peoples Party Liberal in eight, including a friendly contest between the saffron party and the UPPL in Bijni.

The Congress has put up 24 candidates and its partners - the AIUDF in 12, the Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF) in eight and CPI(M) in one. The Congress and the AIUDF are engaged in friendly contests in the five constituencies of Jaleswar, Baghbar, Sarukhetri, Chenga and Barkhetri.

The BJP has severed its ties with its earlier ally, the BPF, and entered into an alliance with the UPPL since the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) polls in December but decided to keep the BPF in the government till the assembly polls.

Himanta Biswa Sarma, a powerful minister and the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), the NDAs version in the region, is locked in a direct contest with Congress candidate Romen Chandra Barthakur in a bid to retain the Jalukbari seat for the fifth consecutive term.

BJP state president Ranjeet Kumar Dass, who earlier represented Sorbhog, is now locked in a triangular contest with the AJP's working president Pabindra Deka and the Congress' Santanu Sarma in Patacharkuchi. The constituency was earlier represented by Deka as an AGP member but he resigned from the party to join the AJP.

Industry Minister Chandramohan Patowary is in a triangular contest with the AJPs Shikhar Kumar Sarma and the Congresss Ratul Patowary to retain the Dharmapur seat.

Guwahati Development Minister Siddhartha Bhattacharya is also locked in a triangular contest to retain Gauhati (East) with the Congress' Ashima Bardoloi, grand-daughter of Assams first chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi, and journalist Adip Kumar Phukan of the AJP.

AGP minister Phanibhushan Choudhury, representing Bongaigaon since 1985, is engaged in a triangular fight with the Congress' Sankar Prasad Ray and the AJPs Dipu Choudhury to retain the seat for the eighth time in a row.

BPF minister Pramila Rani Brahma is in a direct contest with Lawrence Islary of the UPPL in Kokrajhar (East) in a bid to retain the seat for the seventh consecutive term.

Another BPF minister Chandan Brahma is also locked in a direct contest with his UPPL opponent Joyanta Basumatary in the Sidli constituency.

Independent Kokrajhar Lok Sabha MP Naba Kumar Sarania is in a triangular fight with the BPFs Prabeen Baro and UPPLs Bhupen Baro in the Barama seat.

In the Tamulpur constituency, BPF candidate Rangja Khungur Basumatary withdrew from the contest and joined the BJP during campaigning, making the path easier for UPPL candidate Leho Ram Boro.

Among other prominent candidates in the fray are singer Kalpana Patowary (Sarukhetri) of the AGP, journalists Manjit Mahanta and Hridyananda Gogoi, both from Dispur constituency on Congress and NCP tickets respectively, and Adip Phukan from Gauhati (East) on AJP ticket.

Gauhati (West) has the highest number of 15 candidates while Boko (SC) constituency has the lowest - three.

Elections are being held amidst tight security as 320 companies of security forces were deployed in the third phase, the highest among all the phases.

Altogether 79,19,641 voters -- 40,11,539 men, 39,07,963 women and 139 of the third gender are entitled to exercise their franchise in 11,401 polling stations.

Dispur constituency has the highest of 4,11,636 voters while Dharmapur has the lowest of 1,41,592 voters.

There are 316 all-women polling stations and 149 model polling stations.

Altogether 45,604 polling personnel have been deployed for the phase. A section of them has started on Sunday for their polling stations which are remote.

Voters have been urged to wear masks or they will be provided with one at the polling stations, if they are unmasked while COVID mitigation facilities like sanitiser, thermal scanners, soap and handwashing facilities will be a part of Assured Minimum Facilities at each polling station.

The third phase of polling will also involve 33 general observers, nine police observers, 17 expenditure observers and 986 micro-observers. PTI DG NN NN