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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Dec 2014

Bullets overshadow ballots: 20% less polling in Maoist-hit Bastar

Ejaz Kaiser , Hindustan Times  Raipur, April 10, 2014
First Published: 15:26 IST(10/4/2014) | Last Updated: 02:25 IST(11/4/2014)

The results won't show the Maoists as winners in Bastar but the Left-wing rebels have certainly managed to queer the pitch for the candidates in fray in the Chhattisgarh constituency.

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The Maoist-affected Bastar constituency of south Chhattisgarh registered a turnout of 52% on Thursday despite the rebels’ call for a poll boycott. Though the assembly elections last November witnessed a 70% turnout in the strife-torn region, the two previous Lok Sabha polls in 2004 and 2009 had lower voter participation.

According to officials, the average turnout was around 20% less compared to the assembly polls held in November last year.

On Thursday, as in the days before, the rebels stopped at nothing to disrupt the democratic process.

In at least eight polling booths, Maoists opened fire on security forces. In an encounter at Pordem in Sukma district a security personnel was injured.

Security forces recovered improvised explosive devices (IED) close to a polling booth at Nednar in Narayanpur district and three pressure bombs from Bhansi in Dantewada. Owing to security reason the Nednar polling centre was re-located to Akabeda.

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Voting began at 7am on a slow note across the constituency but hardly gathered momentum as the day progressed.

In view of a poll boycott call by Left-wing extremists, the Election Commission had relocated 238 voting booths in Bastar division and rescheduled polling hours, between 7am and 3pm, in all districts, except Jagdalpur, to allow its representatives to conclude work before sunset.

"Maoists tried to disrupt the polling process at different places but security personnel thwarted the attempts by launching retaliatory attacks. The elections were peaceful in Bastar," inspector general of police Arun Dev Gautam told Hindustan Times.

Chief electoral officer Sunil Kujur said re-poll will be held at Polampalli where the electronic voting machine (EVM) malfunctioned.

"All polling parties reached their respective centres before the voting began. There were some reports of Maoists-related incidents," he said. 

However, voters were not too impressed by the arrangements and turnout was very poor in interior regions. The events of the days before D-day had cast a shadow.

On Wednesday, rebels had killed three commandos of the CRPF's elite Cobra force.

Last month, a Maoist attack along the Jagdalpur-Sukma road had left 15 troopers and a civilian dead.

The urban areas, however, registered better polling figures in Bastar where eight candidates are in the fray.

Officials posted in Sukma and Bijapur told HT that tribal villagers who ignored a similar Maoist diktat during the assembly polls didn't turn up as expected to exercise their franchise.

Election Commission officials said the threat perception was apparent during the polls in Bastar.

Even CRPF officials admitted that the aggressive offensive launched by forces and the state machinery as was seen during the November assembly polls was not seen this time.

"During the assembly elections forces arrived at least a month in advance. We entered the Maoist strongholds and chased them away. But the forces this time arrived very late (in March-end) and not in the same strength. This did not give us enough time to get into an offensive," said a senior CRPF officer based in Bastar.


Polling in other states:

Bihar | Chandigarh | Delhi | Haryana | Jharkhand | Jammu | Kerala | Madhya Pradesh |Maharashtra | Odisha | Uttar Pradesh


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