Objections from the ruling BJP and its ally, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), and protests by the Congress may compel the state election commission to reconsider the dates for the election to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) as the polling schedule coincides with the state’s biggest festival, Bihu, in mid-April.
In the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam, Rongali or Bohag Bihu is celebrated for seven days and each day has a special significance. Assam state election commissioner Alok Kumar told AR that the commission is closely watching the situation and may go with a consensus decision.
“We will wait and watch for a couple of days on whether there is a consensus among political parties on the demand for the postponement of the election. We have received memoranda from two political parties in this regard,” said Kumar. He said while preparing the schedule for the election, the issue of seven-day Bihu celebration was not pointed out by anyone. “The holidays are only for three days on account of Rongali Bihu. But since the issue of seven-day celebration has come up and if most of the mainstream political parties want a change of date, we will consider it,” Kumar informed. Sources in the commission said even if a decision is taken to alter the election schedule, the dates of nomination, scrutiny and withdrawal of nominations may not be changed. “Only the date of polling, which coincides with the seven-day period of Rongali Bihu, may be changed,” said the source, citing the instance of the recently-concluded Manipur assembly election where the date had to be rescheduled. The EC decided to conduct the first phase of polling on February 28, followed by the second phase on March 5 in Manipur. Earlier, voting was announced for February 27 and March 3.
Various organizations and political parties moved the EC, urging the poll panel to reschedule the first phase of polling on February 27 as it was a Sunday, community worship day for Christians. The ruling party moved the state election commission to reschedule the polls in Assam, while the Congress staged a protest in the capital on Saturday. Assam PCC general secretary, Apurba Bhattacharjee, said, “How can employees and voters be deprived of their right to celebrate Bihu when they seek the blessings of their parents? Many go to their villages to celebrate the festival for seven days.”He questioned why there was such a hurry to conduct the election now when it should have actually been held four years ago.
The last GMC election was held in 2013. Assam PCC on Saturday announced the names of candidates for 55 out of total 60 wards for the election. The first list was published on Saturday evening following the approval of the state PCC president Bhupen Kumar Borah. “Among prominent leaders fielded by the Congress are Avijit Mazumdar, chairman of the linguistic minority cell of the state Congress and Swapan Das, president of the Guwahati city district committee of Congress,” said Bhattacharjee. The names of five more candidates for the same number of wards would be published soon.