67 per cent poll percentage recorded, same as in 2008

At the close of the first phase of elections in Chhattisgarh, 67 per cent polling was recorded across 18 constituencies of Bastar and Rajnandgaon – nearly the same as the votes polled in 2008. Rajnandgaon polled maximum votes, 79 per cent, and Maoist-dominated Bijapur district polled the lowest, 24 per cent, the Chief Elector Officer, Sunil Kujur said.

However, till late evening, polling parties from several booths, including Bijapur, had not returned to their respective district headquarters. Election officials said the percentage of polling will increase marginally, once all the parties submit the actual number of votes polled in every booth.

Jawan killed

One jawan of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) of 186 Battalion, B. Joshep, was killed in an exchange of fire when the polling party was returning from Katekalyan block in Dantewada to the district headquarters by road. Another BSF jawan was injured when a pressure bomb exploded in Kanker district. Several incidents of firing were reported from Gumiyapal, Choti Gudra, Kuakonda and other areas of rural Dantewada but even then the district polled 67 per cent votes — an 11 percent rise compared to 2008.

Amid tight security, polling in 13 Naxal-influenced constituencies of Bastar and Rajnandgaon concluded at 3 p.m., while in the five remaining constituencies in Rajnandgaon, polling continued till 5 p.m. Barring a few incidents like looting of EVMs at Durgapur or resistance from Maoists in interior areas of Kanker and sporadic exchanges of fire in Bijapur and Bastar, polling was peaceful. However, various types of IEDs, bombs and devices to blow-up vehicles, were recovered from several districts.

Rajendra Mahapatra, a presiding officer at Balinga polling booth of Kondagaon district, died of heart attack this morning, the official said. Another official was deputed there.

Voters came out in large numbers in Darbha Ghat, the area where several people were killed six months back. Almost every booth, around the winding, mountainous tract had Maria Gond tribals lining up as early as eight in the morning. They came from far-flung villages with children as young as two months, waited patiently for three to four hours, had breakfast and lunch in the queue, voted and left. Women outnumbered men in these polling stations and had few problems using the EVMs. But, not many of the tribals were aware of the NOTA option, introduced for the first time.

Mungeli Nag, who came to vote at Darbha, booth number 218, with her three-month-old daughter, said that she had never heard of NOTA. The electors, who belong to areas in and around Darbha hill tract, said that the Maoists did not stop them from voting.

The voters of Elengnarh, a small village about 20 km east of Darbha, inside the Maoist-controlled areas, reached the highway in hundreds to vote in a place called Tahakwar on the Jagdalpur-Bhadrachalam highway in Bastar. A Congress politician of Darbha area, on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu that Maoists have “indeed asked” that the voters exercise their franchise otherwise it would have been impossible for the villagers to vote in such large numbers.

Security arrangements in the entire region were elaborate. Depending on the threat perception of a booth, forces were deployed. For instance, the hyper-sensitive Kankapal polling booth, surrounded by hills on two sides, has been cordoned off by concentric layers of additional ITBP forces. “Two platoons are guarding the school building, where the booth is located and the rest are placed in the hills and the surrounding roads,” said assistant commander Vijay Bahadur Soni. Booths in interior areas had more forces.

Some members of polling parties complained that they have been made to walk long distances to reach the booths.

“I am 59 years old and was made to walk 12 kilometers to reach this booth…to ensure security. I am feeling very unwell…government should stop sending people like us to election duties,” said K. K. Srivastava, the chief of a polling party in Bastar.