Tripura to vote Saturday amidst militant threats

February 22nd, 2008 - 5:03 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

Agartala, Feb 22 (IANS) India’s northeastern Tripura state goes to the polls Saturday with the ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), weakened by its Left ally Forward Bloc going its own way, expected to face a tough challenge from the Congress. In the wake of threats from militant outfits and possible violence, a record 60,000 security personnel have been deployed along with an air surveillance team to conduct the polls in a free and fair manner.

Polling for the 60-member legislature will begin at 7 a.m. In all, 2.03 million people, about half of them women, are eligible to vote to decide the fate of the 313 candidates.

Of the 313 aspirants, 31 are women and 64 are independents.

Major political parties, including the CPI-M and the Congress, have expressed satisfaction over the measures taken by the Election Commission, which had earlier declared that the Tripura polls would be a “model election”.

“All preparations are almost complete for the polls,” Tripura’s Chief Electoral Officer G.S.S. Ayanger said.

“The Election Commission has deployed specially modified Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in all the polling booths across the state to check possible malpractice and other irregularities,” he said.

“Four Indian Air Force helicopters have started aerial surveillances covering all remote places considered to be vulnerable from the extremist point of view,” police spokesperson Nepal Das said.

“About 16,000 poll officials escorted by security forces have left for the 2,391 polling stations across the state,” the election official said.

Each polling official has got a life insurance cover of Rs.200,000.

Of the 2,391 polling stations, 108 have been categorised as very vulnerable and 550 as vulnerable in view of militancy and other security related problems.

The CPI-M has fielded 56 candidates while its partners - the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) - have put up two candidates each. The CPI-M-led Left Front, which was in power since 1978 barring one term, has faced a setback with ally Forward Bloc fielding its own candidates.

The main opposition Congress has nominated 48 candidates and allotted 11 seats to its tribal-based ally, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT). One seat has been left for the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS), a local party formed by breakaway leaders of the CPI-M.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 49 candidates, allotting 11 seats to its new electoral partner, the United Democratic Front (UDF), a party formed by disgruntled tribal leaders of different political parties.

The All India Trinamool Congress headed by West Bengal leader Mamata Banerjee, which nominated 21 candidates, has entered into an alliance with the Lok Janashakti Party (LJP).

“All round development and establishment of peace by controlling militancy are our main poll plank,” said Chief Minister Manik Sarkar. “The Congress failed to cooperate on any development issues and has now forged an alliance with the INPT that is nothing but a mask of insurgents.”

The Congress party during its campaign highlighted alleged corruption, uneven development and misuse of central funds.

The national leaders of all political parties, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, BJP leaders Rajnath Singh and Murli Monohar Joshi and CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat took part in the month-long campaign.

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