Sluggish voting in violence marred Chhattisgarh polls (Fourth Lead)

November 14th, 2008 - 4:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyRaipur, Nov 14 (IANS) About 35 percent polling was recorded till 2.30 p.m. in the first phase of state assembly elections for Chhattisgarh’s 39 seats Friday, with poor turnout in the Bastar region where there policemen were injured in a series of landmine blasts triggered by Maoist rebels.Polling for the region’s 12 seats started at 7 a.m., while it began at other places at 8 a.m. Most polling stations witnessed low turnout with people scared to come out and vote following the Thursday night murder of Trinath Thakur, the Dantewada block unit chief of the Congress.

Dantewada District Superintendent of Police Rahul Sharma said: “Rebels slit his throat and he died on the spot due to excessive bleeding.”

In sharp contrast to the Bastar region, there was heavy turnout of voters in Rajanandgaon and Durg districts where even women exercised their franchise in good number.

Some polling booths in Rajanandgaon, where Chief Minister Raman Singh is contesting on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket, saw long queues of voters even before the polling began.

Meanwhile, an incident of inter-party violence was reported from Dhamtari constituency when alleged Bharatiya Janata Party workers set an election vehicle of the rival Congress party on fire. The police have registered a case.

The incident created tension in three constituencies - Sihawa, Kurud and Dhamtari - of Dhamtari district.

In Konta and Dantewada, in Bastar that comprises five districts, voting was stalled for a while after suspected Maoist guerrillas decamped with some electronic voting machines.

Soon after voting started, gunbattles erupted between policemen and Maoist rebels in about 15 places in Sukma, Kistaram, Konta, Bhairamgarh, Antagarh, Pakhanjoor, Bijarpur and Dantewada constituencies.

Officials said three policemen were injured in a landmine blast triggered by rebels at Injeram in Konta constituency, close to the Andhra Pradesh border.

Despite the presence of 65,000 policemen, including paramilitary forces, the Maoist guerrillas managed to block roads leading to polling booths in over 50 places.

Huge trees were laid on the roads to prevent movement of vehicles. As a result, election officials had to be airlifted to the polling booths in many areas.

Political accusations, in the meantime, had started flying thick and fast. The BJP demanded the arrest of Congress leader and former chief minister Ajit Jogi for his announcement earlier in the morning that he would stay put in Bastar region for the entire day.

Jogi had said he would remain there for the BJP had allegedly planned mass rigging of the polls by misusing the government machinery. The party rules Chhattisgarh.

The BJP legal cell head Naresh Chandra Gupta urged state’s Chief Electoral Officer Alok Shukla to arrest Jogi if he entered Bastar, party sources said.

About 6.4 million of the state’s 15.2 million voters are tipped to exercise their franchise Friday for 39 seats, including 12 of Bastar region, at 8,883 polling booths to decide the fortunes of 379 candidates, including 36 women.

The second phase of polling for 51 remaining seats will be held Nov 20.

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