Mahanta's jumbo cavalcade irks CEO, animal rights activists

GUWAHATI, APRIL 21: The use of elephants by Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) President Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has run into rough weather with animal rights activists strongly objecting to the use of animals for electoral purposes, even as the State Election Department has taken serious note of it.

Earlier, it was a jumbo affair all the way for Mahanta as he went to file his nomination papers. Three eight feet tall elephants, flamboyantly decorated with the AGP flags, led the AGP party president as he trudged from the AGP headquarters here in the city to the office of the Returning Officer, where he filed nomination papers for the Dispur constituency on Saturday. He is pitted against his friend-turned-foe and Trinamool Gana Parishad (TGP) leader, Atul Bora.

The cavalcade, led by the lumbering elephants, which is also the party's election symbol, caused a great commotion among the bystanders, even as slogans raised by AGP supporters rent the air. Traffic was held up for several hours on the busy GNB Road as the procession proceeded at a snail's pace towards the Kamrup Deputy Commissioner's office at around 11 a.m.

Animal right activist Sangeeta Goswami has criticised the use of elephants in the procession. She said that as the head of the State Government, Mahanta should have known that using animals for such purposes is illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. She said that elephants undergo tremendous pain while walking on metalled roads under scorching sun.

The State Election Department was also not impressed with reports of the jumbo cavalcade. Chief Election Officer Bhaskar Musahary told The Northeast Daily that since animals cannot be used for electoral purpose, it would be a violation of the code of conduct if anyone tried to use them. He said he that he will look into the matter, though he pointedly said that he was "unaware" of the procession.

Accompanying Mahanta in the jumbo caravan, were party vice-president and Municipal Area Development (MAD) Minister Biraj Kumar Sarmah, Sports Minister Moidul Islam Bora, party spokesman Birendra Prasad Baishya and two senior BJP leaders, Sunil Shastri and Narayan Borkotoky, among others. Altogether three sets of nominations were filed on Saturday at the Returning Officer's office.

Mr Mahanta, who is contesting from two constituencies--Bahrampur in Nagaon, his home town, and Dispur-said that he was confident of winning from both the constituencies in the elections.

Meanwhile, TGP president Atul Bora said that he was "extremely happy" that Mahanta was contesting from the Dispur constituency. "The battle will now be more interesting," he said. He reiterated that his chances of winning the elections from Dispur were "assured."

Former AGP minister and AGP leader Jatin Mali also filed his papers for Palasbari constituency along with chief minister Mahanta.