One lakh security men deployed for first phase
Raipur: Amid threats of Maoist violence, 18 of the 90 constituencies in Chhattisgarh will go to the polls on Monday to elect a new Assembly in the first phase of a battle in which the Congress is desperate to end 15 years of BJP rule.
The election, widely seen as a 'semi-final' ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will also see a formidable third factor in an alliance stitched by Mayawati's BSP with the Chhattisgarh Janata Congress of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and the CPI.
A total of 190 candidates are in the fray in the 18 constituencies spread over eight districts where Maoists have been active for over a quarter century.
Chief Minister Raman Singh is vying for a fourth consecutive term, and his primary opponent is BJP-turned-Congress leader Karuna Shukla, a niece of late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
In the high stakes battle, Shukla, a former BJP Lok Sabha member, has taken on Raman Singh at his home turf Rajnandgaon.
The other constituencies that will see voting are Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Jagdalpur, Chitrakot, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta.
Twelve of them are in the insurgency-hit Bastar region and six in Rajnandgaon district.
Nearly one lakh security personnel have been deployed in the Naxal-affected districts going to polls in the first phase in Chhattisgarh on Monday.
On the eve of the polls, a sub-inspector of the Border Security Force (BSF) lost his life when Naxals detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kanker district while a Maoist was gunned down in an encounter in Bijapur district.
Voting will be held on Monday in 18 seats spread over eight Naxal-affected districts in the state.
Naxal outfits have given calls for a boycott of the election and executed over half-a-dozen attacks in the last 15 days, three of the major ones which left 13 people dead including a cameraman of national broadcaster Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign.
According to police, escorting polling parties to their destinations and bringing them back after the polls pose challenges to them in the Naxal hotbed.
"Around one lakh security personnel, including central paramilitary force, have been deployed to ensure peaceful polling in the first phase," Chhattisgarh's Special Director General (anti-Naxal operations) D M Awasthi said. All countermeasures have been taken to thwart attempts by Maoists to disrupt the poll process, he said.
A total of 650 companies (roughly around 65,000 security personnel), including of paramilitary forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other state forces, have been sent by the Centre for poll duty, he said.
These units are apart from the paramilitary personnel and 200 companies of state forces already engaged in the anti- Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, Awasthi said.