Chhattisgarh defies red threat, records 70% turnout

Chhattisgarh defies red threat, records 70% turnout

People wait to cast votes at a polling station in the Maoist-hit Sukma district on Monday. PTI

Defying Maoists’ call for boycott, electors made a beeline for polling booths and cast their votes in the first phase of Assembly elections held in 18 constituencies hit by left-wing extremism in Chhattisgarh, amid tight security on Monday.

The overall turnout stood at around 70%, with women taking the lead in the interior areas of the red corridor. Soni Bai, 103, and Sukma, 100, turned up to exercise their franchise in the Maoist hinderland in Sukma district.

More than one lakh security personnel were deployed to ensure free and fair elections. With the threat of Maoist attacks looming large, the authorities used drone cameras to monitor their movements.

“The turnout is expected to increase as data has still not reached from several polling stations located in far-flung areas,” Chief Electoral Officer Subrat Sahoo told reporters in Raipur.

The first phase of polls in Maoist-hit constituencies, including Dantewada and Sukma, passed off peacefully, barring one fierce encounter between security forces and rebels in Bijapur in which five Cobra Battalion personnel, including an assistant commandant, were critically injured.

The Maoists also detonated an IED about 700 metres away from a polling booth under Katekalyan police station area in Dantewada in the morning ahead of the polls that were held from 7 am. Nobody was injured.

During an encounter at Mehandiguda village in Bijapur, the Central Reserve Police Force’s Cobra Battalion personnel gunned down at least five Maoists and injured another five. The bodies of the rebels were yet to be recovered.

A total of 190 candidates were in the fray in the first phase of elections in 18 constituencies while over 31.80 lakh people were registered as voters. A total of 4,336 polling booths were set up.

Polling was held between 7 am and 3 pm at 10 constituencies in seven districts — Bijapur, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Kanker, Rajnandgaon, Kodagaon and Sukma, which are badly hit by left-wing extremism.

Polling in Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot began at 8 am and continued till 5 pm.

Among the prominent candidates in the fray are Chief Minister Raman Singh, state ministers Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and Mahesh Gagda (Bijpaur).

Officials said that polling was held in some of the Maoist-affected areas in Bastar region for the first time in many years, while a minimal increase in voter numbers was recorded in some far-flung areas hit by extremism.

In Sukma, a total of 44 electors voted at Palambuda booth for the first time in 15 years, while 10 people cast their votes for the first time in Mular and Nilwaya locality.

“Our real challenge now is to ensure that our security personnel and poll officials return from their locations and polling stations safe,” Deputy Inspector General of South Bastar region Ratan Lal Dangi told DH.