Polling was peaceful in Maoist-hit Chatra, Palamu and Lohardaga constituencies of Jharkhand on Thursday.
Voters of four of the 14 constituencies exercised their franchise in the state hit by Left-wing extremism. Koderma also went to polls in the first phase.
The polling percentage stood at 58.30 and saw an increase of 8% as compared with that in 2009. Voting will be held in the remaining constituencies over the next two phases — on April 17 and 24.
For a change, the Maoists this time did not threaten to chop off fingers of people who came out to vote in the face of the rebels’ poll boycott call. Director general of police (DGP) Rajeev Kumar said, “Our strategy and team work has given us good dividends ensuring peaceful polls so far.” As per the Election Commission, polling in Maoist-hit areas was to be held from 7 am to 4 pm.
According to office of the state election commission, 58% votes were polled in the three sensitive constituencies — again higher than the figure in the 2009 polls, which were marred by violence.
“We had planned the whole operation meticulously to ensure peaceful polling,” Kumar said.
With inaccessible terrains, poor development rate and droughts, Chatra, Palamu and Lohardaga account for more than half of the total cases of Maoist violence in Jharkhand.
An unprecedented 40,000 security personnel comprising state police personnel and CRPF jawans were deployed in the four constituencies.
Eight choppers, six Russian Mi-17s and two-Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured Dhruv helicopters were pressed into service to carry poll staff and EVMs.
In Palamu, BJP leader and a retired DGP, VD Ram, took on sitting MP and Trinamool Congress candidate Kameshwar Baitha.
Baitha, who had won in 2009 on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) ticket, is a former Maoist and has 46 cases against him.
“I was apprehensive that the Maoists would single out our supporters and attack them,” said Ram.
In Chatra, it was a three-cornered fight between Congress’ Dhiraj Dahu, BJP’s Sunil Singh and Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik)’s Neelam Devi.
People walked miles to cast their votes in Lohardaga where sitting BJP parliamentarian Sudarshan Bhagat was pitted against ex-IPS officer Rameshwar Oraon of the Congress Party and Trinamool’s Chamra Linda.
In Koderma, the fight was between BJP state president Ravindra Rai, Congress’ Tilakdhari Singh and JVM(P)’s Pranav Verma.
HT had recently asked three top Maoist leaders Deenbandhu, Sanjay Ganjhu and Sylvestor of the Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Regional Committee if they support a party/candidate who doled out a hefty amount.
“Rubbish,” Deenbandhu had said, while the two others seconded him.