GAUHATI, India— Balloting in Assam today drew the heaviest turnout in the history of the northeastern state and appeared unmetered by the ethnic violence unleashed by the last polls two years ago, officials said.
Long lines of voters formed at polling booths throughout the hilly, jungle covered state, including areas dominated by Bengali speaking Moslem immigrants who were the main targets of the 1983 bloodshed that left as many as 4,000 people dead.
“Assam is witnessing for the first time a heavy turnout,” said Chief Election Officer P.C. Mishra.
Results were expected by late Tuesday.
Political analysts predicted that voting would be divided mainly along ethnic lines, with most of the voters among the state’s 8.5 million Hindus choosing for the student led Assam Gana Parishad, or AGP, and the voters among Assam’s 5 million Moslems divided between Gandhi’s ruling Congress party and the newly formed United Minorities Front.
State officials said 10,000 extra ballot boxes were flown in nearly 100,000 paramilitary troops have been deployed in the state to prevent a repetition of the 1983 violence, but police in the state capital of Gauhati, about 920 miles east of New Delhi, said there were no reports of violence.
The high turnout appeared to reflect massive support for the AGP, a party formed by Assamese students. It was the students boycott of the 1983 polls that kept turnout down to Bengali immigrants who defied the call.
Analysts say the AGP poses a serious threat to Gandhi’s Congress Party, which has ruled Assam for 32 of the last 38 years, in the race for 124 state Assembly seats and 14 seats for the national Parliament. The AGP’s leaders reached an agreement with Gandhi in August to end their six year campaign of strikes and demonstrations in return for a government promise to expel two million mostly Moslem immigrants who have settled in Assam since 1971.
Another 200,000 immigrants who entered between 1966 and 1971 will be disenfranchised.
Moslem leaders have condemned the Aug 15 accord, pointing out that it does not specify where the expelled immigrants will go when they leave Assam. Bangladesh already has said it will not take them back.
Nearly 100,000 security forces were deployed in India’s Assam state Sunday to prevent a repetition of election violence that claimed 4,000 lives in 1983.
Election officials and police said the extraordinary security precautions for Monday’s state and parliamentary polling would be sufficient to deter a new wave of interethnic violence in the troubled northeastern state.
But they were taking no chances during the preparations for the first Assam elections in nearly three years.
Small groups of paramilitary troops armed with machine guns patrolled the enclaves of Bengali speaking Moslem immigrants who were targeted by the Hindu majority in the worst election violence in Indian history in February 1983.
Article extracted from this publication >> December 20, 1985