Polling will begin at 7 am on Saturday in 47 constituencies across 12 districts in the first phase of Assam Assembly elections where the ruling BJP and Congress-AIUDF alliance are locked in a direct electoral contest.

According to the Election Commission, 81,09,815 voters including 40,77,210 males and 40,32,481 females are eligible to cast their votes at 1,1537 polling stations in the first phase. The polling will begin at 7 am and will continue till 6 pm.

In the three-phased polls, the BJP, which is seeking to retain the power in Assam, is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s governance, Central public welfare schemes, and on the image of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.

While Congress is heading into the battle against the ruling party bringing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to the fore.

A total of 264 candidates are in the fray from 47 seats– 42 seats from 11 districts of Upper Assam and northern Assam region and five seats from central Assam’s Nagaon district going to polls in the first phase.

In 2016, the BJP and its ally AGP had swept the elections in the region by winning 35 of these seats. The BJP alone had bagged 27 seats. Congress could manage to win only 9 seats despite securing nearly the same vote percentage.

Till 2014 Lok Sabha, the Upper Assam area was dominated by Congress but the matrics changed after Himanta Biswa Sarma shifted his base to BJP from Congress.

In the first phase, 37 sitting MLAs are re-contesting including 24 from the BJP, 6 each from Congress and AGP, and one from the AIUDF.

Seats going to polls in the first phase witness election rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP chief Jagat Prakash Nadda.

From the Congress side, Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra were among top leaders who tried to woo voters urging them to vote for candidates of their party as well as its allies.

Key constituencies

Sonowal is seeking re-election from Majuli, a seat he wrested from Congress’ Rajib Lochan Pegu in the 2016 Assembly elections. Pegu, who had won the seat for three straight terms since 2001, has again been fielded by Congress.

Assam Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami is in the poll battle from Jorhat, ministers Ranjit Dutta from Behali, Naba Kumar Doley from Jonai and Sanjoy Kishan from Tinsukia.

The fate of ministers from NDA ally Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)- Atul Bora from Bokakhat and Keshab Mahanta from Kaliabor- will also be sealed during the first phase of polling on March 27.

Ripun Bora is trying his luck from Gohpur seat, where his wife Monika Bora lost in the 2016 polls. The 60-year-old leader will face sitting BJP MLA Utpal Bora.

Among other high-profile candidates in the first phase include Congress Legislature Party leader Debabrata Saikia who is contesting from Nazira, AICC Secretary Bhupen Borah from Bihpuria and former ministers Bharat Narah from Naoboicha, Pranatee Phukan from Naharkatiya and Rakibul Hussain from Samaguri.

Congress has fielded Jyoti Baruah in party stronghold Titabar, a seat held by former chief minister Tarun Gogoi till his death on November 23, 2020. BJP candidate Hemanta Kalita will contest against Baruah.

Lurinjyoti Gogoi, president of newly-floated regional political party Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) will contest from two seats– Duliajan and Naharkatia which will go to polls in the first phase.

The fate of jailed anti-CAA activist and Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi from Sibsagar will be decided in the first phase. Gogoi, a peasant leader, is in jail since December 2019 in connection with a National Investigation Agency (NIA) case for his role in the anti-CAA protests in Assam. He was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Major political parties and coalition

Congress has stitched a coalition named “Mahajath” with All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation, the Anchalik Gana Marcha (AGM) and the Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF) to oust the BJP government from office.

On the other hand, BJP is seeking to return to power with the help of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL).

As Raijor Dal had reportedly failed to register with the election commission as a political party, all the Raijor Dal candidates will contest the polls as independent candidates. Assam Jatiya Parishad and Raijor Dal are contesting the polls in an alliance.

Poll promises

Congress’ election manifesto for Assam, makes “five guarantees” that included Rs 2,000 per month for every housewife and law to nullify the CAA. The party also promised to waive off farmers’ agriculture debts, 5 lakh government jobs, 200 units of free electricity per month for all and increase the minimum wages of tea garden workers to Rs 365 per day.

Releasing the Bharatiya Janata Party’s manifesto ahead of the Assam Assembly polls, party National President JP Nadda made 10 commitments to help Assam take the next ‘big leap’ in the coming five years. The commitments of the party include providing three lakh jobs to the youth, financial support to namgarhs, and ‘correct National Register of Citizens’ for Assam’s protection.

2016 Assembly elections performance

In 2016, the BJP scripted history and formed the government for the first time in the state ending Congress’s 15-year rule. BJP and its allies Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) won a combined 86 seats in the 126-member Assam Assembly. BJP bagged 60 seats, AGP 14, and BPF 12 seats.

This time the BPF has joined the Congress-led coalition ‘Mahajath’ after breaking away from the BJP-led alliance. Congress, which ran the state for three straight terms under the leadership of Tarun Gogoi, could manage to win only 26 seats in the 2016 polls.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP won nine of the 14 parliamentary seats while its allies the AGP, and the BPF drew a blank. On the other hand, Congress bagged three seats, and the AIUDF and an independent won one seat each.

Assam is scheduled to go to polls in three phases with polls due on March 27, April 1 and April 6 for the 126 constituencies across 33,530 polling stations covering more than 2.33 crore electors. (ANI)