Kanker/ Raipur: In less than 24 hours, the second phase of polling in Lok Sabha election will begin in three constituencies of Chhattisgarh, including two Left-Wing extremism (LWE) hit constituencies Kanker and Rajanandgaon. The other one being Mahasamund.
Will voters of these three constituencies show courage, like Bastar did, by defying Maoist threats and clocked 66 percent polling?
The first phase of polling in Bastar witnessed a 5 percent increase in overall voters' turnout this election in comparison to 2014 (59 percent). Even, in Dantewada, where the Maoists killed the sitting BJP MLA Bhima Mandavi and his four security personnel by triggering an IED blast on 9 April — two days ahead of the first phase of polling on 11 April, the polling recorded was 56 percent, which is 6 percent more than in 2014.
Despite low voting in the two worst Maoist-affected segments, both Bijapur and Konta registered growth — from 35.5 percent and 31.23 percent respectively in 2014 to 41 percent and 40 percent in 2019.
“The first phase polling outcome shows that the Adivasis have succeeded in overcoming their fear. This trend we saw during the assembly election last year. They are gradually having trust on administration and police,” Bastar commissioner Amrit Xalxo told Firstpost.
Among the three Lok Sabha constituencies to go to polls on 18 April, five Assembly segments in Kanker and Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituencies have a high concentration of Naxals affected due to which polling will be concluded at 3 pm. It is left to be seen whether the voting percentage in these areas will surpass figures of 2014.
After the first phase of polling, the Maoists continued with their aggressive posturing in order to create terror among the voters of the region. On the occasion of Ram Navami celebrations, the armed cadre of the Naxals attacked and injured security personnel and looted his weapons. In Kanker, they burnt an earthmover. Meanwhile, the police also recovered landmines in the region. The villagers were threatened against voting. The Maoists told the villagers that their "hands will be chopped" if they voted.
"Not only via pamphlets, but the Maoists also visited villages to warn voters. They came to this village and threatened us that if electoral ink is found on the finger of any voter, his or her hand will be chopped off," a village head from Kanker, on the condition of anonymity, told Firstpost. The names of the village and its ‘mukhiya’ (head) have been concealed for the safety of villagers.
But voters in several villages have said that they will cast their vote as they did during the Assembly elections. “This time, the number of voters who will come out to vote compared to 2014, will be more. Andarwaalon ka aatank bandh hona chahiye (There should be an end to Maoist terror),” the mukhiya added.
Ahead of the first phase of polling, the Maoists had put up banners and posters, issued press releases and painted slogans on walls, appealing the voters to boycott Lok Sabha election by dubbing it as ‘Fraud election’.
The administration believes that voters will still come out in large numbers during the second phase as well. “The increase in voting percentage this time indicates that people are fed up with Naxals and their ideology, vis-a-vis an increase in faith in the democratic process. It's a victory of the ballot over bullet. Both police and security forces have ensured utmost safety and security to voters in these volatile areas," Inspector General (Bastar range) Chhattisgarh Police Vivekananda told Firstpost.
A CRPF commandant said, "Besides providing security, we've been creating awareness among villagers for quite some time now to come out and exercise their voting right. Now, the villagers are getting convinced that positive change is possible only through democracy."
One striking aspect of this election is that unlike in the past, there has been no large display of banners, posters and festoons by the BJP as well as by the Congress across the towns and villages.
The contest in Rajnandgaon will be an interesting one as it’s the former chief minister Raman Singh’s constituency. His son Abhishek Singh, the sitting BJP MP was denied ticket and a lesser-known candidate Santosh Pandey has been chosen over him against Congress’ Bholaram Sahu.
The contest in non-Maoist affected constituency Mahasamund will be between two Sahus – Chunnilal Sahu from BJP and Dhanendra Sahu from Congress.
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel held two back to back public rallies on Tuesday in Kanker to ensure Congress’ victory. The BJP has fielded Mohan Mandavi as its candidate against the Congress’ Viresh Thakur.
Considering the sensitivity of the belt in the Naxal-hit constituencies, the government has sealed the borders of Chhattisgarh that shares with Maharashtra, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, with additional check posts for a strict vigil. Out of 70,000 security force personnel deployed in the three LS constituencies, more than 40,000 have been stationed in 22 ‘Naxal hyper-sensitive and sensitive’ areas.
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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2019 13:23:10 IST