Chhattisgarh defies Maoists, records 70 per cent turnout
Raipur: Defying Maoist threats, Chhattisgarh voters notched up an impressive 70 per cent turnout in the first phase of Assembly polls in 18 constituencies , even though the day began with Naxal attacks to scare away voters. At least six Naxals were reportedly killed and five security personnel were injured in encounters in Bijapur and Sukma districts.
Chhattisgarh chief electoral officer (CEO) Subrat Sahu said barring stray incidents of Maoist violence, the first phase of Assembly elections in the state was “by and large peaceful”.
The 18 constituencies where voting took place in the first phase are spread across eight Naxal-hit districts — Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma, Bastar-Jagdalpur, Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Kondagaon and Narayanpur. In 2013, the Congress had won 12 seats and the BJP had bagged six. A total of 31.80 lakh voters were eligible to vote for 190 candidates in the first phase of election.
Despite the boycott call given by Naxals, tribals thronged the polling booths in large numbers in their respective areas to cast vote.
According to figures made available in the evening, the highest turnout of 72 per cent was recorded in Khuiji constituency while the lowest was 49 per cent in Dantewada. Kondagaon recorded 61.47 per cent, Keshkal 63.51 per cent, Kanker 62 per cent, Bastar 58 per cent, Khairagarh 70.14 per cent and Dongargarh and Dongargaon saw 71 per cent each.
Deputy election commissioner Umesh Sinha said, “Since there were queues outside several polling stations at the end of the scheduled voting time, the exact number of votes polled will be known later… It may match or surpass the 2013 figures.”
In the corresponding 18 constituencies, a turnout of 75.06 per cent was recorded in the 2013 elections, he said.
Earlier, Maoists ambushed a search party of security personnel at Pamed in Bijapur district leaving five CRPF jawans injured and triggered two improvised explosive device (IED) blasts at Tumakpak in Dantewada district to scare away voters.
Official reports said that the rebels stormed around a dozen villages in Dantewada district and held the local tribals hostage to prevent them from exercising their franchise.
Two troopers of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA), a counterinsurgency with of CRPF, and three jawans of CRPF were injured when armed guerrillas ambushed a search party in Pamed in south Bastar district of Bijapur, said sources in the state intelligence bureau (SIB).
At least four Maoists were reportedly killed and some 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,” said D.M. Awasthi, special director general of police, anti-Naxal operations.
Two Maoists were killed in an encounter with District Reserve Guard (DRG) in Sukma district. “The encounter took place at 5.30 pm when DRG security parties were coming back from Chitolnar after giving cover to polling parties,” said Mr Awasthi.
Naxals triggered two IEDs at Tumakpak under Dornapal police limits in Datnewada district to scare away the tribal voters who reached local polling booths. However, there were no reports of casualty or injury to anybody in the incident.
The security forces recovered two IEDs weighing 10 kg and 5 kg from Kodkesa under Kanker district.
Earlier, malfunctioning of voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines and electronic voting machines (EVMs) were reported in several polling booths. Seventy VVPAT machines and 40 EVMs were replaced.
VVPAT machines were used for the first time in Chhattisgarh in the polls.
As many as 190 candidates are in fray in 18 Assembly seats in the first phase of election. Prominent leaders whose fates were sealed in EVMs in the first phase of polling on Monday included chief minister Raman Singh, his ministerial colleagues Kedar Kashyap and Mahesh Gagda and former Prime Minister late Atal Behari Vajapyee’s niece Karuna Shukla who has been pitted against the chief minister by Congress.
In the morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted and 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,” Mr Modi tweeted.