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Sparks fly as campaign for Round 1 of Chhattisgarh polls ends

BJP, Congress rake up Maoist issue ahead of voting.

chattisgarh elections Updated: Nov 10, 2018 23:37 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Raipur
Chhattisgarh Election 2018,Chhattisgarh Election 2018 News,Chhattisgarh Constituency
Congress President Rahul Gandhi arrives to pay obeisance at Gurudwara Singh Sabha, in Rajnandgaon, on Nov 10, 2018. (PTI File Photo)

Campaigning ended on a combative note on Saturday for the first phase of polling in the Maoist stronghold of Chhattisgarh, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claiming to have almost ended left-wing extremism in the state and the Congress asserting it needed no lessons in patriotism from the BJP, in a riposte to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allegation that it backed Maoist sympathisers.

BJP president, Amit Shah, spoke for the ruling party, taking over from Modi, who claimed on Friday that the Congress was soft on so-called “urban naxals,” or left-wing activists based in the cities sympathetic to the cause of Maoists, and accused it of describing the rebels as “revolutionaries”.

“The BJP government under chief minister Raman Singh has contained Naxalism and made the state almost free of it,” Shah claimed, releasing the poll manifesto. “A party that feels Naxalism is a medium for revolution cannot do any good for Chhattisgarh,” he added in a reference to the Congress. Gandhi retorted: “Don’t teach us patriotism. There is a line of martyrs in our party.”

Monday’s first phase of polling in Chhattisgarh, which will be held amid tight security assured by thousands of police and paramilitary troopers, will cover 18 of the 90 assembly seats in the state, where the remaining will vote on November 20. Twelve of the 18 are located in the Bastar region, a Maoist hotbed.

The Congress won 12 and BJP six seats in the region, where polling was less than the statewide average of 77.12%, in the 2013 elections. Overall, the BJP got 49 seats and Congress 39 with one each to Bahujan Samaj Party and an independent. This time around, Modi has visited Chhattisgarh twice since the election was announced on October 6; Gandhi has been there three times.

“The first phase of polling is very important for both the parties. The pattern and polling will reflect the political wave in Chhattisgarh,” said Ashok Tomar, a political commentator based in Raipur.

Polling in Bastar will also raise the curtain on the elections that will take place over the next month in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides Chhattisgarh, Mizoram in the northeast and Telangana in the south. The polls are crucial as a pointer to what could lie in store in next year’s general elections.

Shah praised chief minister Raman Singh for the social welfare schemes he has introduced and for attracting industries to the state, and expressed confidence that the BJP will win a fourth consecutive term in Chhattisgarh.

Gandhi accused Raman Singh of involvement in a ₹5,000 crore chit fund scam and a ₹36,000 crore fraud in the state subsidised public distribution system — allegations denied by the BJP.

BJP spokesperson Sacchidanand Upasana termed the allegations a bunch of lies. Congress spokesperson RP Singh said Shah and Raman Singh had nothing new to offer the electorate and were repeating “bogus” claims.

Subrat Sahoo, Chhattisgarh’s chief electoral officer, expressed confidence that polling in the first phase in areas where Maoists hold influence will be peaceful. “We have deployed adequate security forces to ensure violence-free polling,” he said.

The Centre has provided an additional 65,000 security personnel, drones and helicopters ahead of the polling in the state , where three major attacks by Maoists have been reported since the elections were announced on October 6. “We have got 650 companies for the first time for elections in the state,” said special director general of police (Naxal), DM Awasthi.

On Thursday, the Maoists blew up a bus with an improvised explosive device in Dantewada, killing four civilians and a Central Industrial Security Force jawan. On October 30, three policemen and Doordarshan cameraman, Achyutanand Sahu, were killed in a Maoist attack in Dantewada. Three days before that, four Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed and two injured when the rebels blew up a bullet proof bunker vehicle in Bijapur.

First Published: Nov 10, 2018 23:36 IST