The high-octane campaign for the first phase of Chhattisgarh assembly elections marked by intense exchanges between two contenders–the state’s ruling BJP and main opposition Congress–ended on Saturday. The campaigning of both the parties mostly centred on the Naxal issue as 18 Assembly seats spread across eight Maoist-affected districts will go to polls in the first phase on November 12.
BJP, which has won three consecutive elections in the state, fielded top leaders including BJP national president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, while Rahul Gandhi led the Congress charge by holding rallies and road-shows on the last day of the election campaign.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of backing “urban Maoists” and alleged that the party was “remote-controlling” the Maoist insurgency in the region and ruining the lives of poor tribals. Hitting back at the BJP, the Congress alleged that the BJP government was hiding its “failure” in combating Naxalism and bringing development to the state and promised farm loan waiver and other sops like 35 kgs of rice every month for the very family at Re 1 if it wins the election.
190 candidates, including Chief Minister Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon, are contesting in the first phase. In 2013, the BJP lost 12 of these 18 seats in the last polls.
As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up, with an estimated 31,79,520 voters, including 16,21,839 male, 15,57,592 female and 89 of third-gender, are eligible voters.
Contrary to the traditional straight fight between the BJP and the Congress, a third front comprising Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J), Mayawati’s BSP and the CPI is also in the fray this time in Chhattisgarh.
Campaigning ended around 3 pm in 10 constituencies of Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta, where Naxal menace is rampant, and the polling time there will be from 7 am to 3 pm.
A statement issued by the office of Chief Electoral Officer said that in the rest of the constituencies of Khairgarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon. Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot, the campaigning ended at 5 pm and the polling time will be from 8 am to 5pm.
In the last 15 days, half a dozen attacks have been executed by the Naxalites, who have called for a boycott of polls in the state, with three of them being major ones which left 13 people dead including a cameraperson of national broadcaster Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign. Three police personnel, besides the DD cameraman, were killed in the Maoist attack in Aranpur area of Dantewada on October 30.
Before that, four CRPF personnel, belonging to 168th battalion were killed and two others injured after Maoists blew up their bulletproof bunker vehicle in Awapalli area of Bijapur district on October 27. In yet another incident on November 8, four civilians and a CISF jawan were killed when Naxals detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district.
Election authorities said that polling parties are being sent to their destination amid tight security.
A senior police official said helicopters have been pressed into service for air-lifting EVMs, polling personnel and polling materials to polling stations in sensitive remote areas, and chopper services will be used for around 200 polling booths.
Chief Minister Raman Singh is pitted against Congress candidate Karuna Shukla, niece of former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Rajnandgaon constituency. A total of 30 candidates will lock horns in this constituency, which is also the highest in number, whereas the lowest number of five nominees each will fight it out in the Bastar and Kondagaon constituencies.
Two incumbent ministers Mahesh Gagda (Bijapur), Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and sitting MLAs- Santosh Bafna (Jagdalpur), Sarojani Banjare (Dongargarh) have been fielded by the ruling BJP, reposing its faith in old faces.
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) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon) have been renominated by the Congress.
12 are reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) while one for Scheduled Caste (SC) category out of the total 18 seats going to poll in the first phase. On November 20, the remaining 72 constituencies will go to polls.
The BJP had won 49 seats, Congress 39, BSP 1 and independent 1 in the last Assembly polls.
(With PTI inputs)