Chhattisgarh elections: Maoist hotbeds go to polls in phase one; officials hopeful of good turnout

Ahead of the Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh, phase one of which is scheduled for Monday, Maoists have stepped up violence to ensure that voters boycott these polls. This time, the Maoists seem willing to go to any extent to get their message across, which is evident in their latest attacks in Chhattisgarh, the last of which killed four civilians along with one officer of the Central Industrial Security Force, their intended target.

Every election in Chhattisgarh faces an open threat by Naxals to prevent or severely disrupt polling. Even this year, Maoists have threatened voters to "boycott the fake Chhattisgarh elections", or else risk having their inked fingers chopped off. So feared are these Maoists that even electrifying a village is a security threat in their strongholds.

On Monday, 18 of the 90 Assembly constituencies in eight districts of Chhattisgarh go to the polls in the first phase of the elections. These eight districts located in Maoist hotbeds in south Chhattisgarh are among the worst-affected by Left-Wing Extremism in the country, which is why the polls will be held amid a tight security cover of thousands of police and paramilitary personnel.

 Chhattisgarh elections: Maoist hotbeds go to polls in phase one; officials hopeful of good turnout

File image of anti-Maoist operations. AFP.

Twelve of the 18 constituencies are located in Bastar, the biggest Maoist stronghold in Chhattisgarh, and also a Congress bastion. At present, the Congress holds eight of these seats, as against the BJP’s four.

Besides Bastar, Bijapur, NarayanpurDantewada and Sukma are the other places where the first phase of the elections will be held on Monday. In some security-sensitive areas of Dantewada, polling booths have been set up for the first time in 20 years.

The other six constituencies that go to the polls are in Rajnandgaon district. Here, even though Chief Minister Raman Singh holds the Rajnandgaon seat, the Congress holds four of the six seats in the district, which is not free from the Maoist threat either.

It is clear from the campaigning that the BJP, Congress as well as the alliance comprising Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) are aware that the Naxal-ridden 'Red Zone' holds the key to forming the next government in Chhattisgarh. The promises made by all the parties centre around development in this area.

While the ruling BJP has claimed that the state is nearly Naxal-free, the reality is very different. Villagers in these areas continue to live in fear, more so now with the battle between the insurgents and the government heightened ahead of the elections.

Security agencies have been preparing to ensure peaceful polls. Chhattisgarh Chief Electoral Officer Subrat Sahoo is also confident of successful elections in the state. But the Maoists have also stepped up their efforts to thwart a successful election, having threatened voters with dire consequences.

Furthermore, while Maoists have put up hordes of posters to drive home their message, the Election Commission has also plastered hoardings and posters to counter these messages and encourage people to vote. Sukma and Dantewada have scores of such posters by Maoists, asking people to boycott the polls.

In the 2013 polls, several polling booths in these Maoist hotbeds recorded 10 percent votes, with some registering zero votes as well. It remains to be seen whether efforts by the government, Election Commission and the self-help groups brought on board to bring voters out of their homes can help increase the turnout in these regions despite the security threat.

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Updated Date: Nov 11, 2018 22:52:22 IST