Voters defied Maoist violence and boycott call to cast their vote in 18 constituencies of Bastar and Rajnandgaon, recording an impressive 75% turnout in the first phase of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh on Monday.
People wait to cast their votes at a polling booth in Dantewada during the first phase of polling for Chhattisgarh assembly elections. (PTI Photo)
With 100,000 security personnel deployed for 2.9 million voters, the turnout was highest in the last decade. As many as 66.58% voters exercised their franchise in these 18 constituencies in the last state elections in 2008. The second and the final phase of voting for the 90-member House will be held on November 19. Counting is scheduled for December 8.
Typically, a good turnout is read as anti-government. Raman Singh-led BJP government is seeking a third consecutive term in the state.
“This was historic. The voters came out despite the Maoist threat,” said state additional director general of police (anti-Maoist operation) RK Vij.
The Maoists, however, did manage to strike. CRPF head constable BC Joseph was killed when the rebels opened fire on troopers near Nayanar polling booth in Dantewada district. “The polling party of the Nayanar station is missing following the encounter. A search is on,” Dantewada superintendent of police Narendra Khare said.
IED explosions prevented officers from reaching two polling stations. Security forces seized more than 10 bombs, including a 10-kg pipe bomb during searches.
The next big challenge would be to ensure safe return of the polling officers from remote parts, said deputy election commissioner R Balakrishnan.
Monday’s polling is politically significant as 12 of the 18 constituencies fall in the Bastar region, where the Congress got only one seat in 2008. The BJP’s performance in Bastar put it way ahead of the Congress as elsewhere the two parties were almost neck-to-neck.
CM Raman Singh’s constituency Rajnandgaon recorded 79% turnout, higher than 2008 elections and highest among the 18 segments. In 2008, the poll percentage was 76%.
An impressive 75% voting was reported from Jiram Ghati, where a Maoists ambush nearly wiped out the state Congress leadership in May. Rebel-hit areas of Kanker and Dantewada, too, recorded higher voting than the last time.
Bijapur and Konta were the only constituencies to record lower turnout than 2008. No voter turned up in around 50 booths in Bastar and 17 in Sukma owing to Maoist fear.
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Video: First phase of voting in Chhattisgarh