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Dantewada Assembly bypoll: Voters brave Maoist threat as turnout touches 60.16% by 3 pm; figure likely to rise, says official

  • Last week, Maoists put up posters and banners in various parts of Bastar criticising the Chhattisgarh government

  • Even voters from remote villages travelled to polling stations, crossing the crocodile-infested Indravati River

  • After casting her vote at at Pharaspal polling station, Devti said the Congress would win this seat

The polling for the by-election in the Maoist-affected district of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh ended at 3 pm today with voter turnout at 60.16 percent and no untoward incidents. Braving the Maoist threat, many voters cast their ballots from 7 am. Last week, Maoists put up posters and banners in various parts of Bastar criticising the Chhattisgarh government for "killing innocent tribals under the garb of Naxalism" and calling for a boycott.

Even voters from remote villages travelled to polling stations, crossing the crocodile-infested Indravati River. Even the killing of Dantewada MLA Bhima Mandavi in broad daylight by Maoists in April could not dissuade voters.

 Dantewada Assembly bypoll: Voters brave Maoist threat as turnout touches 60.16% by 3 pm; figure likely to rise, says official

Under massive security cover, voters wait outside a polling booth at a primary school at Junglepal village, Katekalyan block. Image courtesy Debobrat Ghose

“At 3 pm, voter turnout was 60.16% percent,” a Dantewada district administration official , speaking on condition of anonymity, said. “The final number will be out around 11 pm. A few teams from remote areas will return tomorrow. Voters came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise.”

In a bid to provide tight security and ensure incident-free polling, around 18,000 security personnel were posted across Dantewada and its surroundings. Many polling booths at areas affected by Left-Wing Extremism such as Katekalyan, Shyamgiri, Geedam, turned into a virtual fortress.

Tribal voters cross the crocodile-infested Indravati River to cast their ballots in Dantewad. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

Tribal voters cross the crocodile-infested Indravati River to cast their ballots in Dantewad. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

The bypoll for this ST constituency was necessitated following the Mandavi's death ahead of the first phase of polling for the Lok Sabha. Mandavi and four security personnel were killed on 9 April — two days ahead of the first-phase of Lok Sabha polling in Bastar — when their convoy was attacked while returning from campaigning near Shyamgiri.

Mandavi was the only BJP MLA elected from Bastar division in 12 Assembly segments during 2018 Assembly polls; the rest of the seats went to the Congress. The attack was put down to an intelligence failure, non-adherence to Standard Operating Procedure and the MLA’s itinerary being leaked.

Nine candidates are in the fray for the by-election. The ruling Congress fielded Devti Karma, wife of noted tribal leader Mahendra Karma, who was killed in the Jhiram Ghati (valley) Naxal attack in 2013. The BJP fielded Ojaswi Mandavi, wife of Mandavi. In the 2018 Assembly polls, Devti lost to Bhima by a narrow margin of 2,172 votes. In 2013, Devti defeated Mandavi.

Tribal voters wait their turn at Tikanpal village in Dantewada. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

Tribal voters wait their turn at Tikanpal village in Dantewada. Image courtesy: Debobrat Ghose

“The voter turnout is good,” a Dantewada-based journalist said. “It’s expected that Devti may win as the ruling government is Congress. Of the two Congress MPs elected this time (of 11) in Lok Sabha polls, one is from Bastar. But there’s another sentiment at work here. The BJP candidate is the widow of the slain MLA. It may work in her favour, at least at Shyamgiri and adjoining villages.”

After casting her vote at at Pharaspal polling station, Devti said the Congress would win this seat. “Congress will win this bypoll by a huge margin, because in the last eight months after coming to power, the Congress-led government in Chhattisgarh has been working for the welfare of tribal population,” she added.

In the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly, the Congress bagged 68 seats, while the BJP secured 15 seats in 2018. The Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) won five and two seats, respectively. Votes will be counted on 27 September.

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Updated Date: Sep 23, 2019 18:31:58 IST