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In the first phase of polls, Chhattisgarh recorded 70% turnout; in 2013 it had recorded an overall turnout of 67%. Photo: PTI
In the first phase of polls, Chhattisgarh recorded 70% turnout; in 2013 it had recorded an overall turnout of 67%. Photo: PTI

Chhattisgarh defies poll boycott by Naxals, records 70% turnout

Voting to 18 out of 90 assembly seats took place despite two Naxal attacks in Dantewada and Bijapur districts

New Delhi: People in Chhattisgarh defied the Naxal call for a boycott and came out in large numbers to exercise their franchise on Monday for the first phase of assembly elections, which recorded a turnout of 70%, according to the Election Commission officials. In 2013, Chhattisgarh had recorded a turnout of 67% in the first phase.

The second and last phase of voting will be held on 20 November.

The districts that went to polls on Monday include Rajnandgaon, Kanker, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Jagdalpur, Bastar, Sukma, Dantewada and Bijapur, which account for 18 out of the 90 assembly seats.

Monday’s polls in Chhattisgarh mark the beginning of a series of assembly elections in 2018, with polls scheduled to be held in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram.

In the 2013 assembly election, the Congress had won eight out of 12 seats in Bastar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning the remaining six. With chief minister Raman Singh of the BJP looking at a fourth term in office, the party has launched an aggressive campaign in Bastar’s tribal and Naxal-affected belt spread over 40,000sq. km.

Even as polling was underway, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday urged people at an election rally in Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur to vote in large numbers during the second phase of polling on 20 November.

Naxals, however, tried to disrupt polling by triggering an improvised explosive device (IED) blast at Katekalyan in Dantewada before voting began.

An encounter also broke out in Bijapur district between the Left-Wing Extremists and the CoBRA battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), in which 10 Naxals were killed and five CRPF personnel were injured.

The bomb disposal squads defused IEDs planted by Naxals at Konta in Sukma district, while a makeshift polling booth was set up elsewhere, CRPF officials said on condition of anonymity.

Singh from Rajnandgaon was in the fray on Monday as his constituency went to polls. Nine Congress members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) were also in the fray from Bastar.

There were 190 candidates in the fray in total in the first phase, according to state election commission data. Across the 4,300 polling booths that have been set up for the first phase, the state has registered 1.62 million women and 1.55 million male voters. Bastar and Rajnandgaon regions have 3.18 million voters.

Senior state police officials said that not only was the overall security enhanced, but election officials were also given enhanced security cover

“Drones have been deployed in several areas to check movements. We have deployed 650 companies of paramilitary personnel, electoral officials have been airlifted to very sensitive spots and all routes are being combed to check for any traps being laid by Maoists," said superintendent of police (Dantewada) Abhishek Pallav.

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