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Chhattisgarh election: 70% turnout in first phase, 4 Maoists reportedly killed in Bijapur encounter

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 12-11-2018
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(Video by NDTV)

Chhattisgarh recorded 70% turnout as polls ended for 18 seats spread over eight districts on Monday, in the first phase of the assembly election, while at least four Maoists were reportedly killed in an encounter with security personnel in Bijapur district.

“Voting has ended, turnout is 70% till now in the first phase of Chhattisgarh elections 2018. Figures will be updated later,” senior deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha said at a press conference in New Delhi, reported ANI.

According to figures available so far, the highest turnout of 72% was recorded in Khuiji constituency while the lowest was 49% in Dantewada. Kondagaon recorded 61.47%, Keshkal 63.51%, Kanker 62%, Bastar 58%, Khairagarh 70.14% and Dongargarh and Dongargaon saw 71% each.

At least four Maoists were reportedly killed and two CRPF personnel suffered bullet wounds as a gun battle broke out when the troopers were on foot patrol in a forested area near Bijapur’s Majiguda village.

“Four-five Naxals are reported to be dead but their bodies could not be collected due to continuous exchange of fire,” special director general of police, DM Awasthi, said. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were attacked around 12.20 p.m. when they were on an “area domination” operation in a dense forest near Majiguda village.

People queue outside a polling station to cast their vote during the first phase of the Chhatisgarh assembly elections at Sukma district on Monday, November 12, 2018.(HT Photo) People queue outside a polling station to cast their vote during the first phase of the Chhatisgarh assembly elections at Sukma district on Monday, November 12, 2018.(HT Photo)

The troopers were from the CRPF’s 204 Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) team - a specialized unit proficient in guerrilla tactics and jungle warfare.

Earlier, the Maoists triggered a blast through an improvised explosive device in Nayanar village when troops of the 195 Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were approaching a polling booth. No injury to the personnel was reported. Another IED device was detected and defused on the road leading to Dwarapara polling booth, under Bairamgarh police station in Bijapur.

Elsewhere in the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his campaign rally in Bilaspur, launched a scathing attack on Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi, saying the party’s “politics begins and ends with one family” and it was disconnected from the people.

Full coverage of Assembly polls

Modi also made a strong pitch for development, saying the pace of development under the Congress regime in the state was “far slower” than the one under the BJP-led government. Bilaspur goes to polls on November 20.

For the 18 constituencies going polls today, voting began for 10 at 7am across seven districts in Maoist-affected Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district. Polling for the rest of the constituencies began at 10 am. More than 100,000 security personnel were deployed and helicopters were pressed into service to airlift polling staff to booths.

Voting was delayed in 53 polling stations of the 4336 booths due to technical reasons. However , smooth polling was witnessed elsewhere with people waiting in long queues , Election Commission sources said.

(Video provided by Times of India)

In a morning tweet, Modi urged people to come out in large numbers to vote in the assembly polls.

“It’s the first phase of polling in Chhattisgarh. I request all voters to participate in the great festival of democracy with enthusiasm and come out in large numbers to vote,” Modi tweeted.

At least six attacks by suspected Maoists, who have asked people to boycott the elections, have killed 14 people, including a Doordarshan cameraperson covering the elections, in the past 15 days.

The state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, which has launched an aggressive campaign to return to power after 15 years, are hopeful of a good showing in the first phase. Five years ago, the Congress won 12 of these 18 seats months after an audacious attack by Maoists that killed at least 25 people, including senior party leaders in Bastar.

“The first phase of polling is very important for both parties. The pattern and polling will reflect the political mood in Chhattisgarh,” said Raipur-based political commentator Ashok Tomar. Hours before polling, state Congress vice-president Ghanaram Sahu announced his resignation from the party on Sunday night, becoming the second senior leader to quit the party ahead of elections.

In a three-way contest, another player — an alliance of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and former Congress chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Janta Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC) — is looking to play a crucial role in shaping the outcome. The 2013 polls for Chhattisgarh’s 90 assembly constituencies were close, with the BJP winning 49 seats and the Congress 39.

The difference in vote share between them was less than one percentage point. Mayawati’s BSP secured one seat and the other went to an independent. In Monday’s polling, there are over three million registered voters spread across 18 constituencies. As many as 190 candidates are in the fray, including chief minister Raman Singh, who is contesting the Rajnandgaon seat, and two other ministers.

There are 4,336 polling booths which have been set up, the police said. “We are using all methods to ensure that polling takes place in (Maoist) affected areas,” said special director general of police (Naxal operations) DM Awasthi, adding that 10 helicopters were being used to send electronic voting machines and polling staff to 210 sensitive booths. “A total of 660 companies of paramilitary forces have been sent by the Centre and we have about 300 companies here... the number of personnel deployed in the region is about 90,000 to 100,000,” Awasthi said.

He said the entire Bastar region was sensitive because Maoists “are using IEDs (improvised explosive devices) on the roads”. He added that Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada and Narayanpur were the most-sensitive districts in this phase. On Sunday, Mahendra Singh, a 28-year-old BSF sub-inspector and a resident of Rajasthan, was killed after Maoists reportedly triggered IED blasts in Kanker district around 8:30am when a security team was on a patrol.

In another incident, a Maoist was shot dead in an encounter with security forces in Bijapur district. The next and last phase of the Chhattisgarh elections will be held on November 20. Political pundits are keenly watching the polls in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Telangana, which come months ahead of next year’s general elections.

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