The Election Commission has reduced to half the duration of the prohibition on campaigning by Assam minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma. The 48commission had slapped a 48-hour campaign ban on the leader initially yesterday in the night for allegedly threatening to incarcerate BPF chief Hagrama Mohilary, an opposition leader whose party switched sides from the NDA to the INC-led Mahajot.
With his ban reduced to just 24 hours, Sarma will now be able to campaign tomorrow – the final day before the third and final phase of Assembly elections take place on Tuesday.
In a letter to Sarma, the Election Commission said it had taken note of “your unconditional apology and assurance/undertaking” and would modify its earlier order “and reduce the period of debarment from election campaign from 48 hours to 24 hours…”
“You have also pleaded on the grounds that you are yourself a candidate in the constituency that is scheduled to vote on April,” the letter added.
Sarma, who is the BJP’s main poll strategist and has been listed as a ‘star campaigner’, moved the top poll body earlier today, and offered his “sincere regret and assurance of abiding by the MCC (Model Code of Conduct) in the future…”
Sarma had asked the Election Commission to cut his ban from 48 hours to 24 hours.
The reduction in the duration of the ban follows reports this morning that Sarma had approached the Gauhati High Court to challenge the Election Commission’s order. However, sources close to him denied this, saying Sarma had accepted the top poll body’s order.
Sarma, the BJP’s nodal man in the Northeast, is a four-time MLA. During the first two of the terms, he was a leader of the INC. The leader from the Jalukbari constituency left India’s oldest party over differences with then INC president Rahul Gandhi.
The Election Commission had issued its original ban order late Friday night after it upheld a complaint by the INC. Sonia Gandhi’s party had alleged that Sarma had threatened to send Hagrama Mohilary, whose Bodoland People’s Front is part of the opposition alliance, to jail by misusing the National Investigation Agency.
Mohilary was once an ally of the BJP but switched to the INC after the BJP joined hands with the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) to form Bodoland Territorial Council in December.
The election to the 126-member Assam Assembly has been spread over three phases with 77.2% of the electorate exercising their franchise in 39 constituencies in the second phase on April 1. In the first phase on March 27 around 76% of voters in 30 constituencies cast their vote.
The third and final phase will be held 6 April, with votes to be counted 2 May.