NEW DELHI: The opposition Congress on Tuesday boycotted the hearing on the delimitation exercise in Assam alleging that it did not receive any response from the Election Commission on its allegation that the state cabinet had a “mala fide intention” in merging four districts with others. The Chief Electoral Officer, however, has written to the Congress to join the consultation by 1 pm on Tuesday as the EC places high value on the viewpoints of a national political party, an official said.
The grand old party is yet to respond to the fresh invitation.
The EC’s full bench, comprising Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar and the two commissioners, Anup Chandra Pandey and Arun Goel, is on a three-day visit to the state since Sunday to hold discussions with various stakeholders on the delimitation exercise. The Congress asserted that after the creation of new administrative units was banned by the EC from January one, 2023, for the delimitation of 126 Assembly and 14 Parliamentary seats of Assam, the state cabinet at a meeting in New Delhi decided to merge four districts and redraw boundaries in 14 places on December 31, 2022.
”Almost all the opposition parties condemned the move and accused the ruling party of attempting to redraw Muslim majority seats in Assam to benefit itself and also to spark religious polarisation. In many localities, affected by this cabinet decision, widespread protests were held by blocking the national highway,” state Congress president Bhupen Bora said.
In a letter to the poll panel, Leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia had urged the EC to take cognizance of the “mala fide intention” behind this cabinet decision so that it has no impact on the upcoming delimitation process. Bora told reporters here that party leaders had met the CEC on January 4 in New Delhi and apprised him of the intention of the state cabinet in the merger of districts.
”After an hour-long meeting, the CEC had assured us that he will look into our allegations and will inform us in writing about the steps taken. Nearly three months have passed but we are yet to receive any reply. We again wrote to the EC seeking an appointment but there was no response to it. So, we decided to boycott the hearing,” Bora said.
The cabinet decision reduced the number of districts from 35 to 31 with Biswanath merged with Sonitpur, Hojai with Nagaon, Tamulpur with Baksa and Bajali with Barpeta. Rejecting the Congress’ charge that the EC did not respond to its accusations on the cabinet decision, sources in the poll panel said that the party had written to it seeking a meeting on March 22, to which a reply was sent, stating that it was visiting Assam and will meet a party delegation at Guwahati. ”Individual response is not a practice and, in any case, cannot be given in connection to the Delimitation exercise without hearing from all the stakeholders,” a source said.
Joint CEO Lakhinandan Saharia wrote to the Congress that he has been directed by the EC to once again extend an invitation to request party representatives to join the ongoing consultations at any convenient time on Monday or by 1 PM on Tuesday.
Responding to the EC’s invitation – 10 recognised national and state political parties and 76 civil society organisations, public representatives and non-recognised political parties met the Commission in Guwahati.