Chhattisgarh set for polls amid Maoist threat (Lead)

November 13th, 2008 - 2:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Raipur, Nov 13 (IANS) One of India’s youngest states, Chhattisgarh, goes to the polls Friday to elect 39 of the state’s 90 legislators in the first of the two-phase elections amid threats from Maoist guerrillas.About 6.4 million of the state’s 15.2 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in 8,883 balloting centres to decide the fortunes of 379 candidates, including 36 women, in the first phase.

This is the state’s second assembly election after it came into existence in November 2000 after splitting from Madhya Pradesh.

In November 2003, the Ajit Jogi-led Congress government suffered a defeat and the BJP formed its first government in the mineral-rich state. In the outgoing assembly the BJP has 52 members, the Congress 34 and the NCP and BSP have one member each. Two seats are vacant.

The first phase will decide the fortunes of Chief Minister Raman Singh (Rajnandgaon), opposition leader and Congress candidate Mahendra Karma (Dantewada) and Speaker Premprakash Pandey (Bhilai).

The constituencies of cabinet ministers Ajay Chandrakar (Kurud), Hemchand Yadav (Durg city), Lata Usendi (Kondagaon) and Kedar Kashyap (Narayanpur) besides Congress leader Motilal Vora’s son Arun Vora and Congress leader Arvind Netam’s daughter Priti Netam will also see polling Friday.

The constituencies that go to the polls include 12 in Bastar region (where Maoists dominate), 12 in Durg, six in Rajnandgaon, four in Mahasamund, three in Dhamtari and two in Kabirdham district.

All eyes are set on the Bastar region that is home to five districts: Kanker, Dantewada, Bijapur, Narayanpur and Bastar. About 65,000 policemen have been deployed in the region to take on Maoist guerrillas who have vowed to disrupt the elections.

Bastar has witnessed over 1,100 deaths in Maoist violence since 2004.

The polling will begin at 7 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. for Bastar’s 12 seats, where security personnel have a task cut out to escort voters and polling parties as well.

The polling timing for the rest of the seats will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bastar Inspector General A.N. Upadhaya told IANS: “Bastar region’s border with Orissa and Andhra Pradesh has been sealed off.”

Authorities have kept ready about a dozen choppers in Bastar to airlift polling parties to polling booths and also bring them back to safer areas before sunset.

The BJP is seeking a mandate for its five-years governance while the Congress has has made corruption, law and order and killings of tribals the campaign theme.

The infighting in the Congress has virtually the entire leadership silently working against Jogi. This, Congress sources admit, is the major stumbling block for the party.

The Congress mood also dampened after party president Sonia Gandhi did not travel to the state to campaign although she was supposed to Nov 10 and 12.

Congress state working president Satyanarayan Sharma, however, claims that the BJP regime is on its way out. But a confident Chief Minister Raman Singh said the BJP was poised to retain power.

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