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Chhattisgarh elections: First phase sees 70% voter turnout amid sporadic Maoist violence

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New Delhi: Defying threats by Maoists, 70 per cent of the electorate turned out to vote on Monday in 18 constituencies in the first phase of Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh amid violence and allegations of EVM rigging. The turnout was just a shade lower than the first phase in 2013 when 75.53 per cent of voters turned out to exercise their franchise.

Appreciating the enthusiasm of the voters, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat said attempst were amde to instill a sense of fear among people. “Polling was peaceful. In comparison to earlier elections, this elections have been singular achievement of the people working in the fields. Attempts were made to create fear among people but enthusiasm in voters was appreciable,” ANI quoted Rawat as saying.

The highest voter turnout was recorded in Khujji at 65.5 per cent till 4.30 pm. The Maoist hotbed of Bastar, which saw just 40 per cent voter turnout in 2013, witnessed a healthy participation this time, with 58 per cent of the electorate coming out to vote. Dantewada recorded 58 per cent turnout, while other regions in the Naxal belt like Kondagaon, Keshkal, Kanker, Khairagarh and Dongargarh saw 61.47, 63.51, 62, 60.5, 64 per cent voter participation respectively.

Minutes before polling began, an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated in Dantewada district by Naxals, who had called for a boycott of the polls. Security personnel also recovered IEDs near a polling station in Bijapur and in Sukma district.

Moreover, five personnel of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were injured and five Naxals were killed in two separate encounters at Bijapur district’s Pamed area. The first encounter took place when a group of Maoists opened fire at a patrolling team of the CoBRA’s 204th battalion, injuring two jawans. The Maoists fled upon retaliation.

When the same patrolling team was cordoning off a forest patch near Majiguda village, Maoists again opened fire at them, injuring assistant commandant Amit Deswal, head constable Sunil and constable Chaitanya.

In the run-up to the elections, the state has registered an increase in the number of Maoist attacks. The rebels have mounted three attacks in the past two weeks, leading to the deaths of eight security personnel and five civilians. On October 30, a Doordarshan cameraman was killed in a Maoist attack in Neelavaya in Dantewada.

A thick security blanket, comprising over 1.25 lakh police and paramilitary personnel, was thrown across the 18 constituencies, which fall in the Naxal belt. Out of the 18 seats, 12 of them fall in the Maoist-infested Bastar region. The Congress had won 12 of the 18 seats in the 2013 elections and faces a tough task in retaining them with the emergence of a new front — the Ajit Jogi-Mayawati alliance — that may eat up a percentage of their vote share.

Meanwhile, the Congress alleged rampant EVM rigging in the Bastar area even as the Election Commission rejected the charges. “BJP has completely lost the plot in Chhattisgarh and its desperation and desolation are more than evident with reports of rigging of EVMs pouring in from Bastar,” IANS quoted Congress Legislative Party leader TS Singh Deo as saying.

A poll officer said as many as 31 EVMs and 51 VVPAT machines were replaced due to technical snags. Another 72 constituencies are set to vote on 19 November to conclude the Chhattisgarh elections.

The prominent faces in the first phase included Chief Minister Raman Singh, who was pitted against Congress’ Karuna Shukla in his home turf Rajnandgaon. Shukla, a niece of late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee switched to Congress from the BJP in 2014. In the first phase of the elections polls, about 190 candidates were in the fray.

Amid the polling for the first phase, Prime Minister Narendra Modi kickstarted the campaign for the second phase by addressing an election rally in Bilaspur. Attacking the Congress for its dynastic politics, Modi said that the grand old party’s “politics begins and ends with one family”.

Singling out the Gandhis, Modi said the “mother-son duo were out on bail” and hit out at them for questioning the government’s demonetisation move. The PM was referring to the National Herald case, where both Sonia and Rahul have been named as accused and are out on bail.

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