65-68 percent turn up to elect new government in Chhattisgarh (Roundup)

November 20th, 2008 - 8:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Raipur, Nov 20 (IANS) After a violent start last week, the two-phased Chhattisgarh elections ended Thursday on a peaceful but cantankerous note with the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) squabbling as voters queued up outside polling booths in the insurgency-hit state.At the end of polling, 65-68 percent of the 8.8 million electorate had voted to choose from among 687 candidates, said the state’s chief electoral officer Alok Shukla.

Though long queues of voters were seen in urban constituencies, there was a more subdued response in the tribal areas.

With a handsome turnout, the two main claimants to power, the Congress and BJP, were confident of winning power in only the second assembly election in the state.

“People came out of their houses in large numbers to retain the BJP government; we are going to make a clean sweep,” asserted Chief Minister Raman Singh, who contested from Rajnandgaon that went to the polls Nov 14 along with 38 other constituencies. Some of them were in the troubled Maoist strongholds of Bastar.

The remainder 51 seats of the 90-member assembly went to the polls Thursday.

“I have reports of heavy polling in favour of the Congress-NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) combine in all the 51 seats. The BJP is set to suffer a humiliating defeat,” said former chief minister and Congress leader Ajit Jogi from his constituency Marwahi in Bilaspur district, about 280 km from here.

A furious Jogi, who escaped unhurt after his convoy was pelted with stones in Bilaspur when it halted at a polling station, termed the attack as the result of “sheer frustration” of the BJP.

“Some anti-social elements from (the bordering) Madhya Pradesh and BJP workers attacked my convoy,” Jogi, who is confined to a wheelchair after an accident, told IANS over the phone.

Also marring the day was a CD released by Congress candidate from Raipur, Yogesh Tiwari, claiming that it showed his rival, Revenue and Forest Minister Brijmohan Agrawal, bribing voters by distributing money to them.

However, Agrawal told reporters all he did was give Rs.20 to a mentally challenged person and would continue to help the person as he had been doing for the last 15 years. The police lodged a case.

In Korba district, as many as 56 election officials, including a few presiding officers, were suspended for negligence of duty. District Electoral Officer Ashok Agrawal took the action after they failed to reach a polling station in time.

Meanwhile, Congress rebel candidate Ganguram Baghel in Raipur district complained to officials that the party workers were distributing “false and mischievous” pamphlets saying he had withdrawn from the contest for the Arang seat in favour of the Congress.

The turnout was lowest in the tribal areas of Surguja, Raigarh, Korba, Koria and Jashpur that account for 23 constituencies. Though no incident was reported from the forested pockets of Surguja on the Jharkhand border where Maoist rebels had threatened a poll boycott, many voters remained indoors.

The first round of polling was violent with landmine blasts and an Indian Air Force sergeant being killed when Maoist rebels opened fire at a helcopter in Bastar. Even then, it saw 70.53 percent voting.

Chhattisgarh’s first elections in November 2003 saw a 70 percent turnout.

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