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No personal attacks during polls in 70s
AJIT PATOWARY
 GUWAHATI, March 31 – There was no personal attack by any of the contestants against their rivals in the run-up to the elections in the Guwahati Lok Sabha (LS) seat about 70 years back, even though there are instances of the supporters of the candidates indulging in slogan shouting using megaphones in front of the polling booths on the polling dates.

The candidates or the political parties then used to criticise the policies of their rival candidates or parties in a manner that suited the parliamentary order. Of course, on rare occasions supporters of the candidates or political parties used to get themselves involved in squabbles. This was the observation made by noted writer Kumudeswar Hazarika, an octogenarian, who has been studying the history of the city for the past several decades.

While talking to this correspondent, Hazarika recalled that he had exercised his franchise for the first time in the 1957 general election, which was the second general election of the country in the post-Independent period. But he has been an witness to the elections since 1946 general election, which was the last general election of the pre-Independence period.

Supporters of some candidates used to campaign for their respective candidates in front of the polling booths on the polling date, using megaphones made of tin sheets. Later, they used to get involved in a tumultuous quarrel. Hazarika used to accompany his maternal grandfather late Mahendralal Borooah to the booth as a child.

In 1957, both the Assembly and Parliamentary seats of Guwahati were won by the Opposition. While CPI nominee Late Gauri Shankar Bhattacharyya won the Guwahati Assembly seat, Socialist leader late Hem Barua won the Guwahati Parliamentary seat that time.

In 1962, Late Bhattacharyya won the Guwahati Assembly seat as an Independent candidate while Hem Barua shifted to the Mangaldoi Parliamentary seat, which he won.

In 1957, the Socialist Party took out a huge victory procession from its Silpukhuri State office via Ulubari and Panbazar to converge in a rally at the Church Field (now Nehru Park). Gauri Shankar Bhattacharyya and many of the CPI members and supporters also took part in the procession. For the then Guwahatians, it was a remarkable development.

Interestingly, the participants of procession literally threw open the Panbazar overbridge for the road users by throwing the no-entry signposts put on both its ends and thus made redundant its formal opening by a political leader, which was scheduled for a later date.

The voting percentage in Guwahati was low earlier. But in 1957, perhaps due to the impact of the Opposition campaigning, the voting percentage became high.

In 1952, the Guwahati Parliamentary seat was won by Congress bigwig late Rohini Choudhury. Though Choudhury won the election that time, he could not complete his term as he met with an untimely death in 1956.

Veteran Congress leader Late Deben Sarma won the Guwahati Parliamentary seat in the bye-poll held in 1956.

Till 1972, there was no ban on campaigning on the election date. But since 1977, this practice was banned by the Election Commission making it mandatory that all campaigning activities should end before 48 hours of the commencement of polling.

Till 1972, parties and candidates were allowed to canvass and bring their supporters to the polling booths by their (parties/candidates) vehicles. This, however, created some unpleasant scenes in front of the polling booths.

Hazarika remembers that noted artiste Late Kamal Narayan Choudhury used to make ‘running commentaries’ in his comic style to the amusement of the common people in front of the Central Telegraph Office at Panbazar on the polling dates. This he continued till 1972.

Huge crowds of people would gather at the site to listen to the humorous comments of Late Choudhury. The complaint of a particular party practising ‘Shesh Ratir Khel’ was heard even in 1952. In 1972, Guwahati was divided into two Assembly constituencies – Guwahati East and Guwahati West. Later, in 1977, it was divided into four Assembly constituencies – Guwahati East, Guwahati West, Dispur and Jalukbari, Hazarika said.

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