Chhattisgarh Elections: 67% polling in first phase

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Dantewada: People wait to cast their votes at a polling booth during the first phase of polling for Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. Photo: PTI
Dantewada: People wait to cast their votes at a polling booth during the first phase of polling for Chhattisgarh Assembly elections. Photo: PTI

With successful implementation of the NOTA (None Of The Above) option on Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), polling in the first phase of elections for the Chhattisgarh Assembly came to an end today. Despite Maoist threats, 67 percent polling was registered in six constituencies of Rajnandgaon and 12 of Bastar.

While naxal attempts to disrupt the voting process failed due to tight surveillance by security forces, a BSF jawan was injured when a pressure bomb exploded in Pankhajur. Encounters between security forces and naxalites were also reported from Dantewada, leaving a few CRPF jawans critically wounded. Another CRPF head constable was killed in a naxalite ambush at Nayanar. Trying to assert their point of boycotting elections, naxals opened fire at a polling party in Pankhajur and ambushed polling booths at Mankela, Dantewada and Katekalyan. Inflammatory pamphlets were thrown at the Manpur-Ondhi road in Rajnandgaon, asking for a boycott of the elections. Skirmishes between security forces and naxals were also reported from several areas of Mohala-Manpur.

The state may have witnessed a healthy turnout of 67 percent, but there was only 24 percent voting in Maoist-hit Bijapur while Konta registered 40 percent voting. The fear of naxals resulted in zero voter turnout at the polling booths of Kistaram and Golapalli in Sukma district. Neither was there any voting in five other polling booths for the district’s Konta seat. In fact there were cases where the polling party could not even reach the booth – four places in Antagarh’s Koelibeda were among them. As a result, the EC had to cancel polls in the two booths of Durgapur and Sitapur, while two other booths at Panidobir had to be relocated to Gudabeda.

As a precautionary measure, the borders of Rajnandgaon and Bastar touching Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were sealed. An air-ambulance was kept ready at Jagdalpur in case of an emergency and the police headquarters had deployed 751 companies of GPS-equipped paramilitary forces including CRPF, BSF, CISF, IRF, and ITBP.

A major disaster was averted when the BSF and the district force (DF) discovered a 200-metre long wire, and defused two live bombs. The CRPF also recovered 10 bombs from Mangnar while four others were recovered from Rajnandgaon’s Ondhi.

“It was the bravery of voters and security forces that ensured smooth polling,” said Arun Dev Gautam, IG, Bastar Range. The next hurdle before the security forces and government officers is to safely transport the EVMs to the centres for counting votes.

In the backdrop of the elections, a clash between BJP and Congress workers was also witnessed at Konta. In another clash between the two parties at Jagdalpur, Congress candidate Samu Kashyap and Congress leader Rekhchand Jain were critically injured.

Chhattisgarh BJP in-charge, Jagat Prakash Nadda said, “Despite threats from the Maoists, women and the elderly actively participated in voting. We believe it to be the Raman-effect.” But according to Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee vice-president, Rajendra Tiwari a pro-Congress atmosphere was witnessed during polling.

Meanwhile, chief electoral officer Sunil Kujur said that elections might be conducted again in some polling booths. The decision for a re-election will be based on the presiding officer’s diary and the report of surveyors and returning officers.

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