Sixty-seven per cent of the electorate in Maoist-hit Bastar and Rajnandgaon districts voted in the first phase of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh on Monday. As the region witnessed the heaviest turnout in a decade,some tribal constituencies saw up to 75 per cent polling.
The vote,which the Chhattisgarh Police described as a historic success,took place under an unprecedented security blanket provided by nearly 100,000 pairs of boots on the ground. The Naxals made their point by killing a CRPF man in Dantewada and injuring a Chhattisgarh policeman in Kanker.
They also carried out five IED explosions in Rajnandgaon,fired at security personnel across the region,and prevented polling parties from reaching two booths,which will now see a re-poll. No votes were cast in at least 15 booths.
But in comparison to 2008,the scale of violence was minuscule. On polling day five years ago,Naxals had looted 23 EVMs,killed nine policemen and a civilian,managed to hit a helicopter and kill an engineer on board,injured 18 policemen and triggered explosions at 16 places.
On Monday,the democratic state rolled into some areas for the first time in a full decade. While 167 booths were moved away from interior areas,poll officials accompanied by security personnel still walked up to 40 km in some cases to ensure voting in eight of the countrys 26 severely Maoist-hit districts.
The voting was covered by 2,700 CCTV cameras,which the Election Commission said had done away with any possibility of rigging. The Congress had accused the BJP of manipulating the 2003 and 2008 assembly elections in this belt by a combination of vote rigging and an understanding with Maoists on the ground.
Some of Indias most deprived and poor voters got,for the first time,the right to reject all candidates by pressing the NOTA button on the EVMs.
Our polling parties reached every booth except two. Reaching some booths,especially in Abujhmaad,was really challenging. It is a historic success for us. Our forces have done a great job, R K Vij,ADG (Naxal Ops) told The Indian Express.
At Abujhmaads Mangnar booth,long queues were seen,Vij said. More details will be available after the polling party returns on Tuesday,he said. A party returning from a booth in Dantewada came across nearly 500 wooden planks heavily spiked with nails.
Polling parties and security patrols recovered 15 IEDs across the region.
Barring Bijapur,Konta and Antagarh,which saw 24 per cent,40 per cent and 58 per cent polling respectively,the other nine seats of Bastar recorded over 60 per cent voting. Mohala-Manpur,the only Scheduled Tribe constituency in Rajnandgaon where 29 policemen including a police superintendent were killed in 2009,saw over 75 per cent polling.
In Dantewada,where 55 per cent voted in 2008,67 per cent voted on Monday. The turnout is especially significant because the Maoists had repeatedly called for a boycott of the vote,and warned villagers to stay away.
At 12 seats of Bastar and Mohla-Manpur,polling took place between 7 am and 3 pm so that voters could return home before early. At other constituencies,polling opened at 8 am and closed at 5 pm.
Some booths of Konta,Bijapur and Dantewada recorded zero voting. These 15-odd booths mostly fall under the Salwa Judum zones or where we had shifted the polling camps. The exact numbers will be available only after the parties return, Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kujur said.
Vij said most of polling parties had returned,the rest had stopped at safe places for the night and would begin their journey early on Tuesday with the EVMs.
Two polling booths of Kanker Sitram and Chhote Pakhanjur remained out of reach after the polling parties ran into Maoists on the way. A re-poll would be held later,Kujur said.
Chhattisgarh Police auxiliary constable Bajirao was injured in the Maoist attack,and was airlifted to Raipur. In another incident,CRPF head constable VS Joseph was injured in Maoist firing at Naynar polling booth in Dantewada. He died on the way to the medical centre.
For the first time on Monday,voters chose between a chief minister and the widow of a victim of Maoist violence. The Congress had urged Raman Singh to move,leaving his seat for Alka Mudaliyar,the wife of Darbha victim Uday Mudaliyar,but he decided otherwise.
Singh had got an unassailable lead in the tribal belt in 2008,winning 15 of the 18 seats. The BJP and Congress had got 35 each of the remaining 72 seats,with the BSP winning two. If the BJP loses significantly in this belt this time,and the Congress improves its score or even retains its 2008 tally in the second phase,the race could get tight for the chief minister.
Besides Singh,three of his ministers had their electoral fates sealed in the EVMs on Monday. One of them,Forest Minister Vikram Usendi,had won by only 109 votes in Antagarh in 2008. And BJP MLA Subhau Kashyap had won by 1,201 votes in Bastar.