First-phase polling begins in Chhattisgarh

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Raipur, Nov 14: Polling in 39 assembly constituencies in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh elections began on Friday, Nov 14 morning amid tight security particularly in naxalism-affected Bastar division.

Polling in Bastar's insurgency-affected belt began at 0700 hrs and will conclude at 1500 hrs while in the rest of the areas it commenced at 0800 hrs and will end at 1700 hrs. An electorate exceeding 6.4 million would decide the fate of 379 candidates through electronic voting machines in 7,268 polling stations spread across ten districts of the southern part of the state.

Prominent candidates are Chief Minister Raman Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party -- Rajnandgaon), Assembly Speaker Prem Prakash Pandey (BJP -- Bhilai), Leader of the Opposition Mahendra Karma (Congress -- Dantewada), his deputy Bhupesh Baghel (Cong -- Patan), Minister Hemchandra Yadav (BJP -- Durg) and former Congress minister Ravindra Choubey (Saja).

More than 40,000 security personnel have been deployed in five districts of Bastar while ten helicopters were pressed into service to carry polling teams to 247 polling stations, security personnel and even observers to avoid landmine blasts.

Interstate borders were sealed and patrolling intensified in districts with police personnel being directed to avoid vehicles for patrolling due to the threat of landmines.

Amid a poll boycott call by Maoists in Bastar division -- comprising Dantewada, Bijapur, Bastar, Narayanpur and Kanker districts -- a curfew-like situation prevailed in rural areas.

Senior police officials said here that special security focus had been on the region by deploying 191 companies of special armed forces from Punjab, Bihar, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, while there were 12 battalions of central paramilitary forces and two battalions each of Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) and Chhattisgarh Armed Police.

Reports from Bastar said that central forces had been deployed in all 2,256 polling booths of Bastar division, of which 2,218 were identified as either sensitive or hyper-sensitive. Security personnel had already seized a large quantity of bombs and other explosives while several roads were blocked by ultras. Development was the main issue for all political parties during campaigning with BJP leaders narrating achievements of the Raman Singh government. The Congress, on the other hand, highlighted ''corruption and misuse of funds'' by the state government.

In the first phase, 12 seats are in five districts of Bastar division, 12 in Durg district, six in Rajnandgaon district, 4 in Mahasamund district, 3 in Dhamtari district and 2 in Kabirdham district.

The maximum 19 candidates are in the fray from Vaishali Nagar in Durg while the minimum is at Konta (ST) in Dantewada district where four candidates are in the arena.

The second phase of polling in 51 constituencies is scheduled for November 20. Counting would be taken up on December 8 from 0800 hrs.

The first-phase seats are Saraipali (SC), Basna, Khallari, Mahasamund, Sihawa (ST), Kurud, Dhamtari, Sanjari Balod, Daundi Lohara, Gunderdehi, Patan, Durg Rural, Durg City, Bhilai City, Vaishali Nagar, Ahiwara (SC), Saja, Bemetara, Navagarh (SC), Pandariya, Kawardha, Khairagarh, Dongargarh (SC), Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh (ST), Bhanupratappur, Kanker (ST), Keshkal (ST), Kondagaon (ST), Bastar (ST), Jagdalpur, Chitrakoot (ST), Dantewada (ST), Konta (ST), Bijapur (ST) and Narayanpur (ST).


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