Polling in 18 assembly constituencies in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh elections commenced on a slow note on Monday with about 14 percent of the electorate casting their votes in the first few hours, a poll official said. An improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated early morning in Dantewada district by Naxals, who had called for a boycott of the polls, police commented.
Voting in nine seats of Bastar division and one seat in Rajnandgaon district commenced at 7 am while in the other eight seats, it started at 8 am. “Around 14 percent polling has been registered so far. The polling is going on smoothly and properly,” an official said. Thirty-one EVMs and 61 VVPAT machines were changed due to technical snags, a poll official said.
A thick security blanket, including over 1.25 lakh police and paramilitary personnel, was thrown across the 18 constituencies as they fall under the Naxal-hit areas of Bastar, Kanker, Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, Kondagaon, and Rajnandgaon districts. Sukma’s Superintendent of Police Abhishek Meena commented voters from interiors areas in the district were coming out to exercise their right to franchise, defying the Naxals’ call for the election boycott.
In ‘Bhejji 2’ and Gorkha polling booths, zero voting was recorded in the 2013 polls, but this time 11 and 20 voters respectively had voted in the initial hours, he alleged. In ‘Bhejji 1’ polling station, where last time only one vote was cast, 72 people had voted so far this time, Meena said.
Polling time in 10 constituencies – Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, and Konta – commenced at 7 am and would be finished at 3 pm, amid the threat by Naxals. In the other eight constituencies — Khairgarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot — voting began at 8 am and would be completed at 5 pm.
In the first phase, 190 candidates were in the fray and as many as 4,336 polling booths had been established and 19,079 polling personnel were deployed there. Among the prominent candidates were Chief Minister Raman Singh, state ministers Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and Mahesh Gagda (Bijapur), and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Kanker Lok Sabha MP VikramUsendi (Antagarh).
Nine sitting Congress MLAs — Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), LakheshwarBaghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), KawasiLakhma (Konta), GirwarJanghel (Khairagarh), SantramNetam (Keshkal) and DaleshwarSahu (Dongargaon) — were also contesting.
This time, the coalition between Mayawati-led BahujanSamaj Party (BSP), former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s JCC(J) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) had joined another dimension to the electoral politics of Chhattisgarh.
Of the 18 seats going to polling in the first phase, 12 were reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and one was for Scheduled Caste (SC) category. The second phase of polling in 72 seats, out of the 90-member Assembly, would be held on November 20 and counting of votes would take place on December 11.