Bastar votes in by-poll amid Maoist firing

Voters were seen queuing up at booths in urban areas right 8 a.m. when polling began, officials said. But in the forested interiors, the booths were deserted, largely because of the Maoists who have vowed to disrupt the election, police said.

Police said some 25,000 security personnel, including 15,000 paramilitary forces, were deployed in the constituency to guard 1,716 polling booths.

Five choppers were deployed for aerial supervision in Maoist strongholds where landmines have been laid on or close to roads.

Maoists have blocked the key Narayanpur-Orchha road with rocks and boulders. Firing was heard from at least five locations deep in Dantewada district.

Voting was held up for about 90 minutes at polling booth No.155 in Bijapur district as the electronic voting machine developed a snag.

Bastar is one of the worst hit by Maoist activities. The rebels have a strong presence in about 80 percent of the forested region.

There are eight candidates in the fray. The main contest, however, is between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. The state's ruling BJP has won the tribal reserved seat four times.

The by-election followed the death of BJP's tribal leader and MP Baliram Kashyap in March.
The BJP has fielded his son Dinesh Kashyap. The Congress nominee is Kawasi Lakhma, legislator from Konta seat, one of the eight assembly segments in the Bastar parliamentary constituency.

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