Defying Maoist threats and boycott calls, 70 per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh polls on Monday. Voting took place in 18 Assembly constituencies spread across eight Naxal-affected districts of the state where the BJP has been ruling for the last 15 years.

“Around 65 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 3 pm in 18 assembly constituencies in the first phase of Chhattisgarh elections on Monday,” agency reports quoted a poll official as saying.

Voting in 10 of the 18 seats began at 7 am on Monday and ended at 3 pm, while that in rest of the eight seats began an hour later and continued till 5 pm.

In the run-up to the polls, Maoists carried out multiple attacks in the last few weeks, killing several people including a BSF officer and a journalist.

Minutes before the polling began on Monday, a foot patrol party of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) had a narrow escape as the Maoists detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Katekalyan in Dantewada district.

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In Bijapur district, around 500 km from Raipur, as many as five personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were injured in two encounters with the Naxals, police said.

CoBRA, an elite unit of the CRPF, was patrolling the area in view of the voting going on in the region, a senior police officer said.

Among the injured are sub-inspector Lal Chand, assistant commandant Amit Deswal, head constable Sunil and constable Chaitanya, according to a PTI report.

Nearly 1.25 lakh security personnel were deployed in the region and its 4,336 booths to ensure peaceful polling.

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Voting in 10 seats of the 18 seats began at 7 am on Monday and ended at 3 pm. These seats are Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur, Konta, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal and Kondagaon. In rest of the eight seats, Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot, polling started at 8 am and continued till 5 pm.

Of these 18 seats, 12 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs) and one for Scheduled Caste (SC) category. The second phase will polling in 72 seats on November 20.

A total of 190 candidates are in the fray as the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly goes to polls in two phases. Counting of votes will take place on December 11.

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The elections this time is a three-corner contest between the ruling BJP, the Congress and the combine of former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s Chhattisgarh Janata Congress and Mayawati who also enjoy support of the Communist Party of India.

In the 2013 elections, the BJP had lost 12 of these 18 seats.

Among the prominent faces in the first phase are Chief Minister Raman Singh who has been challenged by Congress’ Karuna Shukla in Rajnandgaon. Shukla is late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece who switched to Congress from the BJP in 2014.

Eyeing a fourth straight term, the Raman Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party has in its election manifesto promised to give Rs 2 lakh interest-free loans to women to start business, distribute free books and uniforms to students till Class 12, form a journalist welfare board and build a Film City in the state.

On the other hand, the Congress has promised farm loan waiver, minimum support price for crops as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and special women police stations.

The Congress on Monday alleged “rampant” EVM rigging in Bastar area, though the poll panel rejected the charges.

“The BJP has completely lost the plot in Chhattisgarh and its desperation and desolation is more than evident with reports of rigging of EVMs pouring in from Bastar,” IANS quoted Congress Legislative Party leader TS Singh Deo as saying.

The poll panel dismissed the allegation saying “certain sources were spreading rumours of EVM malfunctioning and rigging”. The panel replaced over three dozen EVMs and 61 VVPAT machines due to technical snags.

The 18 Assembly constituencies have over 31 lakh registered voters, including over 15 lakh men and more than 16 lakh women.

(With agency inputs)