Monday’s first phase of polling in Chhattisgarh, which will be held amid tight security assured by thousands of police and paramilitary troopers, will cover 18 of the 90 assembly seats in the state, where the remaining will vote on November 20. Twelve of the 18 are located in the Bastar region, a Maoist hotbed.
The Congress won 12 and BJP six seats in the region, where polling was less than the statewide average of 77.12%, in the 2013 elections. Overall, the BJP got 49 seats and Congress 39 with one each to Bahujan Samaj Party and an independent. This time around, Modi has visited Chhattisgarh twice since the election was announced on October 6; Gandhi has been there three times.
“The first phase of polling is very important for both the parties. The pattern and polling will reflect the political wave in Chhattisgarh,” said Ashok Tomar, a political commentator based in Raipur.
Polling in Bastar will also raise the curtain on the elections that will take place over the next month in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides Chhattisgarh, Mizoram in the northeast and Telangana in the south. The polls are crucial as a pointer to what could lie in store in next year’s general elections.
Shah praised chief minister Raman Singh for the social welfare schemes he has introduced and for attracting industries to the state, and expressed confidence that the BJP will win a fourth consecutive term in Chhattisgarh.
Gandhi accused Raman Singh of involvement in a ₹5,000 crore chit fund scam and a ₹36,000 crore fraud in the state subsidised public distribution system — allegations denied by the BJP.
BJP spokesperson Sacchidanand Upasana termed the allegations a bunch of lies. Congress spokesperson RP Singh said Shah and Raman Singh had nothing new to offer the electorate and were repeating “bogus” claims.
Subrat Sahoo, Chhattisgarh’s chief electoral officer, expressed confidence that polling in the first phase in areas where Maoists hold influence will be peaceful. “We have deployed adequate security forces to ensure violence-free polling,” he said.
The Centre has provided an additional 65,000 security personnel, drones and helicopters ahead of the polling in the state , where three major attacks by Maoists have been reported since the elections were announced on October 6. “We have got 650 companies for the first time for elections in the state,” said special director general of police (Naxal), DM Awasthi.
On Thursday, the Maoists blew up a bus with an improvised explosive device in Dantewada, killing four civilians and a Central Industrial Security Force jawan. On October 30, three policemen and Doordarshan cameraman, Achyutanand Sahu, were killed in a Maoist attack in Dantewada. Three days before that, four Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed and two injured when the rebels blew up a bullet proof bunker vehicle in Bijapur.