Jagdalpur (Bastar), Jan 23: Maoist naxalites who had spread their activities in half of 18 districts in Chhattisgarh hold the key in the Assembly bypoll in Keshkal constituency, where polling is scheduled on February 4.
Naxalites have much influence in the female dominated rural constituency having sizeable forest cover and all 100 booths spread over 211 naxal-hit villages have been declared sensitive. There are a total of 1,46,796 voters, including 74,162 women, who are scheduled to exercise their franchise in 150 booths, official sources said.
Bastar District Collector Ganesh Shankar Mishra said prohibitory orders under section 144 CrPC had been enforced in entire constituency during electioneering and 26 companies of additional security personnel had been requisitioned.
Five candidates figure in the bypoll necessitated due to the death of ruling BJP MLA Mahesh Baghel in a road accident few months ago. The main contest is between BJP's Sevakram Netam and Budhsen Markam of Congress. CPI-supported independent Nuhruram Sodhi, Shiv Sena-supported Mahesh Thakur and another independent Sonuram Naik were also in the field.
Sensing that the Keshkal bypoll will be a trend-setter ahead of this year-end Assembly poll, the ruling BJP had deployed all resources at its command to retain the seat. Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam and about a dozen ministers were monitoring the campaign.
The opposition Congress also deployed for campaigning its full strength of 34 MLAs, including former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi's wife, Renuka Jogi, party MLA from Kota constituency in Bilaspur district.
Ahead of the bypoll in the tribal constituency, the government has launched an intensive campaign against the Maoist ultras. On Monday night, police seized from the state capital a huge cache of fire arms and wireless sets, which were found lying abandoned apparently in transit.
The ruling BJP is also guessing the mood of the electorate after its ambitious scheme of distributing rice at Rs 3 per Kg to BPL families was launched from the new year day.
In the past 11 Assembly elections held in Keshkal since 1957, Congress won it in 1957, 1972, 1980, 1985 and 1998, Jana Sangh held it in 1967, Janata Party in 1977 and BJP in 1990, 1993 and 2003. The constituency was represented by an independent in 1962.