Raipur: Suspected Maoist insurgents triggered blasts and opened fire to scare away voters, killing one policeman on Friday in the first phase of elections to the 90-member Chhattisgarh state assembly, officials said.
Armed rebels blocked roads and snatched electronic voting machines in Bastar district. One policeman was killed and four others were wounded in two separate landmine blasts triggered by rebels in Bastar.
The rebels also opened fire in 15 different places to scare away voters. Polling could not be held in 21 polling booths because of the violence. Voting concluded peacefully in other parts of the state, officials said.
The election in Chhattisgarh is a key test for the Congress party, which is fighting the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Friday’s polling in 39 constituencies kicked off a month-long period of state elections, a precursor to the general election in early 2009 that will pit the ruling Congress-led coalition against the BJP.
At least 55% of the 6.4 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, an Election Commission official said in New Delhi. Polling for the remaining 51 seats will be held on 20 November.
Brave souls: Locals queue up at a polling booth in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh, on Friday. Rebel Maoists, who say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers, had called for a boycott of the polls. PTI
Apart from Chhattisgarh, the states that will go to the polls are Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, Delhi and the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which will vote in stages for security reasons.
In Kashmir, thousands of troops will guard the vote in one of India’s most troubled regions, where Muslim separatist leaders, many sent to jail without trial in the run-up to the vote, have called for a boycott.
The Maoists in Chhattisgarh had also called for a boycott of polls and asked voters to stay away from the elections.
Maoist rebels say they are fighting for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers, and regularly attack government property and policemen.
Thousands of people have been killed in the insurgency, which began in the late 1960s and stretches through rural pockets of east, central and southern India. The election is the second in Chhattisgarh since the state’s creation in November 2000. The fortunes of 379 candidates were decided on Friday.
Nigam Prusty in New Delhi and PTI contributed to this story.