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Defying the Maoists,Chhattisgarh votes with its feet: 67 pc in phase one

Some tribal constituencies saw 75 pc polling as the region witnessed heaviest turnout in a decade.

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Raipur |
November 12, 2013 8:45:26 am

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. Some tribal constituencies saw 75 per cent polling as the region witnessed the heaviest turnout in a decade.

The vote,which was described as a “historic success” by the Chhattisgarh Police,took place under a massive,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.

In comparison to 2008,the scale of violence and disruption 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 state rolled into some areas deep in the jungle for the first time in a 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 country’s 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 India’s 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 Abujhmaad’s 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 ST 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. This is especially significant because 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 dark. 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.

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