The first phase of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections has begun amid tight security in 18 constituencies known as Maoist hubs.
Voting for 10 seats began at 7 am and will end at 3 pm, while that in the remaining eight seats began at 8 am and will continue till 5 pm. Nearly 1 lakh security personnel have been deployed in the districts.
A total of 190 candidates are in the fray.
The 10 seats where voting started early are Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal and Kondagaon. Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot polling stations opened at 8 am.
As many as 19,079 polling personnel have been deployed in the 4,336 polling booths across the 18 constituencies with over 31 lakh voting population, including over 15 lakh males and more than 16 lakh females. There are 87 third gender voters too.
Of the 18 constituencies, most are reserved category seats — 12 of them for Scheduled Tribe (ST) and one for Scheduled Caste (SC).
Chhattisgarh has been ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the last 15 years. BJP veteran and three-time Chief Minister Raman Singh is contesting the elections eyeing a forth term. He has been challenged by late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla, a former BJP leader who joined the Congress in 2014.
State ministers Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and Mahesh Gagda (Bijpaur), BJP’s Kanker MP Vikram Usendi (Antagarh) are among the other prominent candidates.
Nine sitting Congress MLAs contesting the polls include Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), Lakheshwar Baghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Girwar Janghel (Khairagarh), Santram Netam (Keshkal) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon).
Naxals had given calls for a boycott of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections, and carried out several attacks in the run-up to the polls, killing 13 people.
Ahead of the polls, Naxals detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Kanker district killing on Monday, a Border Security Force sub-inspector. A Maoist was gunned down in an encounter in Bijapur district.
Naxal outfits have executed over half-a-dozen attacks in the last 15 days, leaving 13 people dead, including a cameraman of Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign.
The police have said escorting polling parties to their destinations and bringing them back is a challenging task.
“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 told PTI.
According to the police, around 65,000 security personnel, including those from the companies of paramilitary forces such as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), BSF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other state forces, have been sent by the Centre for Chhattisgarh Assembly elections duty.
Around 650 polling booth parties were airlifted to remote areas on Saturday while other teams were sent by road on Sunday.
Police have been asked to maintain a strict vigil on the borders with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
The second phase of polls will take place on November 20 when 72 seats will see voting.