By Prarthana Mitra
Voting for the first phase of assembly polls in Chhattisgarh took place on Monday. The Maoist-affected state went to polls for 18 seats across eight of the most conflicted districts, amid high security. Minutes before polling were supposed to begin, an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated in Dantewada. According to reports, about 650 companies comprising 1.25 lakh security personnel were deployed for the first phase alone, following calls from Maoists for a boycott of the elections.
During the day, five personnel of Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were injured while patrolling Bijapur’s Pamed area, when five Naxals opened fire. The rebels were later killed, according to ANI.
Polls come with a violent backdrop
The state was gripped by violence for a fortnight leading up to the polls, with Maoists leading over 6 attacks, leaving 13 casualties including that of a Doordarshan journalist in their wake.
According to reports, over 300 IEDs were recovered from the Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district by security forces. Over the weekend, a Border Security Force (BSF) official lost his life when an IED detonated in Kanker while a Maoist was shot dead during an encounter in Bijapur on the eve of the polls.
Preparations for security
Security forces were on high alert, even offering to escort voters to and from the polling booths, to prevent Naxals from disrupting the electoral process. Some civillians were also airlifted and transported from remote areas, with drones keeping a watch on the movement of Maoist forces from above.
Arrangements were also made to intercept IEDs planted along the way, and sanitise polling premises. Around 198 polling booths in Bijapur, Sukma, Kanker, Dantewada, Narayanpur and Bastar had to be relocated to preserve safety and convenience.
A recap of the polling and what’s at stake
Polling in 10 constituencies — Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta — started at 7 am and ended at 3 pm. In the other eight seats, voting went on till 5 pm.
Against all odds, voter turnout was 70%, although Congress alleged rampant EVM rigging in the Bastar area. A poll officer told IANS that 31 EVMs and 51 VVPAT machines were replaced due to technical snags.
“BJP has completely lost the plot in Chhattisgarh and its desperation and desolation is more than evident with reports of rigging of EVMs pouring in from Bastar,” IANS quoted Congress Legislative Party leader TS Singh Deo as saying. In a state where Congress and BJP have had the fiercest fights, BJP has always won in the last three elections. Chief Minister Raman Singh’s seat Rajnandgaon falls in the first phase, where he faces Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece.
12 of the 18 seats that went to polls yesterday are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and one for Scheduled Caste (SC) category. The second phase of polling in 72 seats, out of the 90-member Assembly, will be held on November 20.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius