A high-decibel election campaign dominated by the Naxal issue with nearly half a dozen attacks by Left wing extremists during the period came to end Saturday evening in 18 Assembly seats spread across eight Maoist-affected districts of Chhattisgarh that will go to polls in the first phase on November 12.
The BJP, which has won three consecutive elections in the state, and the Congress fielded their top leaders for the campaign, with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, BJP national president Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath seeking to woo voters with rallies and road-shows on the last day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally on Friday took on the Congress, accusing it of backing “urban Naxals” who, he said, were “remote-controlling” the Maoist insurgency in this region and ruining the lives of poor tribals.
The Congress, however, alleged that it was an attempt to hide the “failure” of the BJP government in combating Naxalism and bringing development to the state. The opposition party also promised farm loan waiver and other sops like 35 kgs of rice every month for very family at Re 1 only if it wins the election.
A total of 190 candidates, including Chief Minister Raman Singh from Rajnandgaon, are contesting in this phase. The BJP had lost 12 of these 18 seats in the last polls in 2013.
An estimated 31,79,520 voters, including 16,21,839 male, 15,57,592 female and 89 of third-gender, are eligible to vote. As many as 4,336 polling booths have been set up for this phase.
While Chhattisgarh has traditionally seen a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress, this time a third front comprising Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J), Mayawati’s BSP and the CPI is also in the fray.
Campaignning ended at 3 pm in 10 constituencies- Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta, where Naxal menace is rampant, and the polling time there will be from from 7 am to 3 pm.
In the rest of the constituencies- Khairgarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon. Khujji, Bastar, Jagdalpur and Chitrakot, the campaigning ended at 5 pm and the polling time will be from 8 am to 5pm , a statement issued by the office of Chief Electoral Officer here said.
The Naxalites have called for a boycott of polls in the state and have executed half a dozen attacks in last 15 days, three of them major ones which left 13 people dead including a cameraperson of national broadcaster Doordarshan who was covering the election campaign.
Three police personnel, besides the DD cameraman, were killed in the Maoist attack in Aranpur area of Dantewada on on October 30.
Before that on October 27, four CRPF personnel, belonging to 168th battalion were killed and two others injured after Maoists blew up their bullet proof bunker vehicle in Awapalli area of Bijapur district.
On November 8, four civilians and a CISF jawan were killed when Naxals detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district.
Polling parties are being sent to their destination amid tight security, election authorities said.
Helicopters have been pressed into service for air-lifting EVMs, polling personnel and polling materials to polling stations in sensitive remote areas, a senior police official said adding that chopper services will be used for around 200 polling booths.
A keenly-watched constituency is Rajnandgaon, where Chief Minister Raman Singh of the ruling BJP is pitted against Congress candidate Karuna Shukla, niece of former prime minister late Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
The highest number of 30 candidates will lock horns in this constituency, while the lowest number of five nominees each will fight it out in Bastar and Kondagaon.
The ruling BJP has reposed its faith on old faces and fielded two incumbent ministers Mahesh Gagda (Bijapur), Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) and sitting MLAs- Santosh Bafna (Jagdalpur), Sarojani Banjare (Dongargarh).
Congress has renominated its nine sitting MLAs Manoj Singh Mandavi (Bhanupratappur), Mohan Lal Markam (Kondagaon), Lakheshwar Baghel (Bastar), Deepak Kumar Baij (Chitrakot), Devati Karma (Dantewada), Kawasi Lakhma (Konta), Girwar Janghel (Khairagarh) and Daleshwar Sahu (Dongargaon).
Of the 18 seats going to poll in the first phase, 12 are reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) while one for Scheduled Caste (SC) category.
The remaining 72 constituencies will go to polls on November 20.
The counting of the votes will be held on December 11.
In the last Assembly polls, of the total 90 seats, the BJP had won 49 seats, Congress 39, BSP 1 and independent 1.