As voting for the first phase of the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections began in 18 constituencies amid tight security on Monday, Maoists resorted to blasting improvised explosive devices aiming to halt the polling process in the state.

10.7 per cent voter turnout was recorded till 10 am in the first phase of polling. 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.

All the 18 constituencies are known as Maoist hubs.

Maoists triggered an IED blast in Nayanar village of Katekalyan area in Dantewada at around 5:30 am to target the security forces. The blast occurred when troops of the 195 Battalion of CRPF were approaching a polling booth. No injury to troops was reported.

Later, three IEDs were detected near a polling booth in Konta’s Banda area in Maoist-affected Sukma. Voters were immediately shifted to a makeshift polling booth established under a tree, away from the actual polling booth.

The CRPF bomb disposal squad is in the process of defusing the explosive devices.

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In the last 10 days, over 300 IEDs were recovered from Bastar region and Rajnandgaon district by security forces.

Nearly 900 polling personnel were air-dropped from helicopters so that they can reach safely. Over 16,500 polling personnel went by-road, Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat informed.

In the first phase, 190 candidates are in the fray and as per electoral rolls, there are 31,80,014 voters. As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up for the first phase and 19,079 polling personnel have been deployed.

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.

Amid calls for boycott, drones have been deployed in sensitive areas to track movements of Maoists as they might target polling personnel on way to the booths.

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.

Chief Minister Ram Singh exuded confidence saying that the BJP’s lotus will bloom in Chhattisgarh for the fourth time under the leadership of party chief Amit Shah.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged voters to take part in large numbers.

“The first phase of voting in Chhattisgarh is today. I urge all voters to take part in the great festival of democracy with full enthusiasm and in huge numbers,” Modi tweeted.

 

BJP president Amit Shah too appealed to the people of Chhattisgarh to cast their votes.

Read | Chhattisgarh Assembly Elections 2018: Complete list of BJP, Congress candidates | Key names in fray

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 fourth 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 (Bijapur), BJP’s Kanker MP Vikram Usendi (Antagarh) are among the other prominent candidates.

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