Chhattisgarh Assembly Election phase one sees 70% turnout; voting takes place for first time in several places

Raipur: Authorities in Chhattisgarh succeeded in bringing more tribals into the democratic process, with the first phase of Assembly elections in the state recording a voter turnout of 70 percent. However, Naxals in the Bastar region targeted security forces and candidates at several places.

On Monday, an encounter broke out in Pamed area of Bijapur district, and an IED bomb went off barely a kilometre-and-a-half away from a polling booth in Tumakpal, near Katekalyan area in Dantewada.

IED bombs were also found near polling booths and defused successfully in Konta and Bijapur.

 Chhattisgarh Assembly Election phase one sees 70% turnout; voting takes place for first time in several places

People in line to cast their ballots in Chhattisgarh. Image: 101Reporters

In Palam Adagu village in Sukma, voting was conducted for the first time in 18 years since Chhattisgarh was formed. Several such polling booths were set up this time in villages across Dantewada, Sukma and Bijapur districts where voting hadn’t been conducted since the state came into being.

Election Commission data gave details for the voter turnout till 4.30 pm in Kondagaon (61.47 percent), Bastar (58 percent), Keshkal (63.51 percent), Kanker (62 percent), Khairagarh (60.5 percent), Dongargarh (64 percent), Khujji (65.5 percent) and Dantewada (49 percent).

Sukma, one of the districts most severely affected by left-wing Extremism, recorded 45 percent polling till 4.30 pm. Narayanpur, another such district, recorded a 63 percent voter turnout. Urban areas recorded 58 percent polling.

A total of 18 constituencies went to the polls in the first phase on Monday.

Till 5.30 pm, the overall voter turnout was 58.55 per cent. The state had recorded a voter turnout of 77.12 percent in the last Assembly elections of 2013.

Chief Electoral Officer Subrat Sahu said the polling process was peaceful overall, apart from minor incidents of Naxal violence. Sahu said that 70 VVPATs and 40 EVMs were replaced, while some EVMs had to be repaired.

The second phase of voting in Chhattisgarh for the remaining 72 seats is scheduled on 20 November.

BJP MP from Kanker, Vikram Usendi, who is contesting the Antagarh seat said, "The enthusiasm of the people was worth seeing. In the last 15 years, the faith gained by Raman Singh has sent people in huge numbers for voting. I have no doubt of my victory."

Karuna Shukla, who is contesting against Raman Singh in Rajnandgaon, said, "While I am the niece of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I worked at all levels — from the ward to the nation. I worked for 34 years in the BJP. The culture that Atal Bihari Vajpayee instilled is within me, but the BJP is far from it. Raman Singh is not a challenge for me; I am a challenge for Raman Singh."

In this election, an upbeat Congress appears confident of gaining from the anti-incumbency of 15 years of the Raman Singh-led BJP government. Another contender is Ajit Jogi, the former Congress chief minister of the state, who is challenging the big two national parties with his new party, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC), which is in alliance with Mayawati’s BSP and the CPI.

Other parties in the fray include the CPM and Gondwana Republican Party.

In the last Assembly elections of 2013, while the BJP had managed to get 49 seats, the Congress was restricted to 39 seats. BSP and Independent candidates recorded their victory on one seat each. However, the vote difference between the two national parties was only 0.75 percent.

Cartoon by Manjul.

Cartoon by Manjul.

The Maoist diktat of boycotting elections is not a new phenomenon in Bastar. This year though, trapped between the state's attempt to ensure voting and the Maoist boycott threats, tribals from the 12 seats under Bastar division had demanded in the first week of November that the voting ink not be put on their fingers in order to keep the identity of voters safe from Naxals. The State Election Commission sent a proposal regarding this demand to the Central Election Commission, but the request was not considered.

The government may claim that the Maoist movement has been curbed in Chhattisgarh under the NDA rule, but non-stop attacks by Naxals depict a different picture of the conflict-ridden region. It is true that the pressure of the security forces on the Maoists in Chhattisgarh has increased and the security forces have succeeded in regaining much of the territory under the Maoists’ influence. But that hasn’t translated into reduced attacks by the Maoists.

This year too, while Maoists have been attacked, the security forces have suffered major losses. Despite deployment of more than a lakh security forces across the 18 polling constituencies, the Maoist threat loomed large through the day, and will remain until the safe return of polling parties along with EVMs.

(The author is a member of 101Reporters)

Updated Date: Nov 12, 2018 23:20:35 IST