Guwahati, March 31 (IANS) The stage is all set for the second phase of Assembly elections in BJP-ruled Assam on Thursday for 39 of the 126 Assembly constituencies where the electoral fate of 345 candidates, including 26 women aspirants, will be decided.
The over a month-long hectic campaigning ended on Tuesday for the seats located mostly in central and southern Assam, and comprising six reserved for Scheduled Tribes and five for Scheduled Castes.
Assam Chief Electoral Officer Nitin Khade said that all preparations have been completed to conduct free, fair, peaceful and smooth elections on Thursday, when 73,44,631 voters, including 36,09,959 women, are eligible to cast their votes across 10,592 polling stations including 556 all women managed polling stations.
Khade told the media that the electorate comprises 89,875 voters aged 80 years and above and 90,000 first time voters.
Around 31,000 Central Armed Police Force personnel, along with thousands of state security force personnel, have been deployed to maintain law and order during this phase in which 42,368 polling personnel are engaged.
Of the 39 seats, 15 fall in southern Assam's Barak Valley region, comprising three districts -- Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakhandhi -- mostly dominated by Bengali-speaking people. In 2016, the BJP had bagged eight of these, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) four and Congress three.
In the Thursday's balloting, the electoral fate of several Assam Ministers including Fisheries, Excise, Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Piyush Hazarika, state Irrigation Minister Bhabesh Kalita and Deputy Speaker Aminul Haque Laskar will be decided.
Suklabaidya is contesting from the Dholai seat for the seventh time on a BJP ticket, Hazarika from Jagiroad and Kalita from Rangia. Former Congress Minister Gautam Roy is contesting from Katigorah on a BJP ticket, while former Deputy Speaker Dilip Kumar Paul, who resigned from the BJP after he was denied ticket and was subsequently expelled, is contesting as an Independent from Silchar constituency.
The third and final phase would be held in 40 seats on April 6. Results will be declared on May 2.
Nearly 80 per cent of 8,109,815 voters cast their votes on Saturday in the first phase conducted in 47 constituencies.
In the month-long hectic election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP President J.P. Nadda, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Madhya Pradesh counterpart Shivraj Singh Chouhan campaigned for party candidates.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath, party spokesman Gourav Vallabh and General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala were among the central leaders who campaigned for their party candidates.
In the elections, the BJP is highlighting the "perfect NRC (National Register of Citizens)" while the main opposition Congress has given top priority to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, even as both the national parties have common issues of empowerment of women, jobs to youth and protecting the Assamese culture.
After the Bodoland Territorial Council polls in December last year, the BJP had forged an alliance with the United People's Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP), discarding its old ally Bodoland People's Front (BPF). The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) remains an ally.
To take on the BJP , the Congress, which governed Assam for 15 consecutive years (2001-2016), formed a 10-party 'Mahajot' (grand alliance), also comprising three Left parties -- the CPI-M, the CPI and the CPI-ML, along with the AIUDF, the Anchalik Gana Morcha, the BPF, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and two community-based parties -- the Jimochayan (Deori) People's Party and Adivasi National Party.