Maoists lay siege to polling booths

Maoists lay siege to polling booths

Extremist attack disrupts voting till 2 pm in Maharashtra

Maoists lay siege to polling booths

The government reacted swiftly, rushing police reinforcement and using two MI-17 helicopters to the Naxal-infested district where a war-like situation prevailed till late on Tuesday evening. The government’s objective was to airlift some of the election officials trapped in various parts of the district where voting in 22 out of 832 booths was postponed to October 15 in view of the Maoist desperate move to stall polling.

Naxal firing was also reported from Bonde village, resulting in a clash with security forces. Maoists opened fire in at least two Assembly constituencies of Aheri and Armori. Elsewhere, the electoral process could not begin even till 2 pm in at least 11 polling stations due to the Naxal threat. Election officials were present in the booths but tribal inhabitants of the area did not venture out of their homes.

Naxals also opened fire in Bondhai village in the district, despite the presence of security personnel who did not retaliate as part of a strategy not to ‘give in’ to the violence unleashed by Maoists.

Threat ignored

However, voters in Gadchiroli defied Maoists’ threat to disrupt polling. They turned out in large numbers in most parts to exercise their franchise. An estimated 68 per cent voters in the district cast their ballots, according officials here.

Overall, 60 per cent voters out of 7.60 crore eligible electorate cast their ballots in 288 constituencies to elect a new Assembly and a new state government in the first election after the Congress-led UPA government assumed power for the second time at the Centre in May 2009.

A critical and tense situation arose by Tuesday evening when 30 election officials, on their way to Khamtala village of Gadchiroli, could not return as their travel routes were blocked by armed Naxalites.

On October 8, a group of around 150 Maoists had ambused a 40-member special anti-Naxal force on patrol in the jungles of Gadchiroli and killed 18 commandos in a fierce battle that had lasted for almost four hours. It was the third such assault on policemen in Gadchiroli this year.

Over the past few days, the Naxals had been warning voters against going to the polling booths and threatened politicians against venturing in their areas. The October 8 ambush was a sequel to continuing Naxal activities in the district which has seen a large influx of Maoists from neighbouring Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh in the past few months.

Polling was held with the Naxal threat looming large. Despite massive security arrangements, voting in 22 of 832 booths in Gadchiroli was postponed to October 15 after landmines were found in the area and polling officials could not reach polling booths in time.

‘A hat trick for ruling combine’

A private Marathi news channel has predicted that the Congress-NCP ruling coalition was likely to perform a hat trick by winning between 135 to 145 seats in the state Assembly, reports DHNS from Mumbai.