Dantewada (Chhattisgarh): The tension is clear in Bastar’s Dantewada, Narayanpur, Bijapur and Sukma districts, amid a series of deadly attacks by Maoist insurgents on security forces ahead of the first phase of polls in Chhattisgarh on Monday.

The initial phase will see 190 candidates, including chief minister Raman Singh, in the fray for 18 seats.

On Sunday, the Naxals detonated six improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Bastar’s Kanker district killing one Border Security Force (BSF) trooper, just two days after an IED blast killed a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel.

Along the forested routes leading to Sameli, Aranpur and Bacheli, insurgents have scrawled graffiti, threatening villagers with dire consequences should they go out and vote. Security forces in the area are prompt to erase the messages, within hours of being written in the dead of the night.

Five years after the Naxals killed the entire state Congress leadership just ahead of the 2013 state polls, the elections this time hold greater significance for candidates and security forces, alike.

The state police as well as the Union home ministry is conducting the polls on a war footing, given that 1,500 of the 6,500 Naxal cadres are armed.

Polling stations have been set up at government schools and other state government buildings. Senior state police officials said that 650 companies, comprising 77,000 paramilitary personnel, have been deployed across Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Jagdalpur, Bastar, Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur.

The state police officials said that while in conflict areas such as Kashmir, an election sparks off sporadic militant attacks alongside episodes of stone-pelting, a single blast by the Naxals can kill scores of people.

Given the magnitude of the threat in Bastar, the Chhattisgarh Police, Punjab Police, BSF, Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and CISF have been deployed for the polls in addition to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

“The induction of the forces began from 15 October and they will be de-inducted after the conclusion of the first phase of polls. These troops will then be moved to areas where polling will happen in the second phase, depending on priority. We have to decide which force will go where depending on how much prior anti-Naxal experience they have," said Abhishek Pallav, superintendent of police of Dantewada.

A blueprint has been drawn by the state police for the polling day. Polling stations in extremely sensitive areas will be guarded by three companies of security forces, or 380 personnel.

While polling parties are usually scheduled to arrive one day before polls, Naxals have issued fresh threats in Bastar warning officials not to be accompanied by security forces. The police are taking steps to ensure that state election commission officials are unharmed, in order for free elections to be conducted on Monday.

“Two companies will go on D- minus one day (one day before polls) and conduct area domination. They will comb the area for IEDs, pressure bombs, spikes or other roadblocks that Naxals set up. They will stay the night there, while one company will bring the polling party, Election Commission (EC) officials and the requisite equipment with them. We are being extra cautious because the Naxals have stated that they will target polling parties," Pallav added.

With voting scheduled to begin at 7am, EC officials along with security forces will set out at 4am from their base camps. While the journey to the interiors of Bastar takes an average of two hours, officials are airlifted, or escorted by foot or road to the polling stations, where they will set up the booths at 6am.

The state election commission, on its part, has extended full support to security personnel and the Union home ministry. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an official in the state election commission said that the timings too, “had been altered in Bastar from the usual 8am to 5pm to 7am to 3pm, so that polling operations were wrapped up before sundown". “Given that this is a huge battlefield, even one small mistake can cost several lives," he added.

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