Stage set for poll battle in Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh

Raman Singh, the incumbent CM of Chhattisgarh. PTI file photo.

The stage is set for the first phase of Chhattisgarh Assembly polls in 18 seats spread across eight Naxal-affected districts on Monday.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is eyeing a fourth straight term in the tribal-dominated state as the opposition Congress seeks to return to power after 15 years.

Chief Minister Raman Singh, two state cabinet ministers and an incumbent BJP MP are among the 190 candidates contesting in 18 constituencies of the 90-member Assembly.

The constituencies of Khairagarh, Dongargarh (SC), Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur (ST), Antagarh (ST), Bhanupratappur (ST), Kanker (ST), Keshkal (ST), Kondagaon (ST), Narayanpur (ST), Bastar (ST), Jagdalpur, Chitrakot (ST), Dantewada (ST), Bijapur (ST) and Konta (ST) will go to polls on Monday.

Of these, 12 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST) and one for Scheduled Caste (SC) category.

The stakes are very high for the saffron party on these 18 seats as it had lost 12 of them in the last polls held in 2013.

Eyeing his fourth consecutive term as chief minister, Singh is contesting from Rajnandgaon seat where his main rival is Congress' Karuna Shukla, the niece of former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Singh had last time defeated Alka Mudliyar, wife of slain Congress leader Uday Mudliyar who was killed in the Jiram valley Naxal attack in 2013.

In Narayanpur segment, the Congress has renominated Chandan Kashyap against BJP minister Kedar Kahsyap.

Chandan had lost to Kedar last time.

The Congress has also given a second chance to Vikram Mandavi from Bijapur (ST) seat against state Forest Minister Mahesh Gagda. Mandavi had lost to Gagda in 2013.

Prominent BJP leader and Kanker Lok Sabha seat's incumbent MP Vikram Usendi is contesting from Antagarh (ST), where the Congress has fielded a fresh face, Anoop Nag.

Usendi had won Antagarh seat in 2013 polls. However, he resigned after he was elected as the Lok Sabha member from Kanker seat in 2014.

The ruling BJP has also fielded two sitting MLAs - Santosh Bafna (Jagdalpur) and Sarojani Banjar (Dongargarh).

The Congress has renominated its nine sitting MLAs - Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), Lakheshwar Baghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Girwar Janghel (Khairagarh), Santram Netam (Keshkal) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon).

Devati Karma, the wife of Congress leader Mahendra Karma who was killed in the 2013 Jiram valley attack, had defeated Bhima Mandavi of the BJP.

The BJP has again fielded Mandavi from the seat.

It also nominated Dhani Ram Barse, who was defeated by senior Congress leader Kawasi Lakhma, from Konta seat.

As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up for the first phase of the state polls. There are 31,79,520 voters, including 16,21,839 males, 15,57,592 females and 89 of the third gender.

During the campaign for the polls, BJP leaders highlighted how Naxalism, which was at its peak during the Congress rule in the state, was contained during the last 15 years and also the development works taken up by the government.

Top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Smriti Irani, campaigned for the saffron party and highlighted various achievements of the Raman Singh government.

On the other side, the Congress accused the BJP of "failing" to control the Naxal menace and referred to the chit fund and civil supply scams. It also targeted the chief minister's son Abhishek Singh over his alleged offshore assets.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi had held five rallies and a road show while campaigning for the first phase of the Assembly polls.

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Stage set for poll battle in Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh

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