Zee Media Bureau
Kondagaon/Raipur: Marking the beginning of the battle of the ballot in five states considered to be the semi-final to 2014 General Elections, the battlegrounds in Naxal strongholds of Bastar and Rajnandgaon region are all set for the first phase of Assembly polls which are going to kickstart on Monday in 18 constituencies of Chhattisgarh.
Ahead of polls, security was heightened on Sunday as two ITBP men were injured in a landmine blast.
Chief Minister Raman Singh and his three ministers in the BJP government are among 143 candidates contesting from 12 constituencies in Bastar division and six constituencies of Rajnandgaon district with an electorate of 29,33,200 in the first of the two-phase polls to the 90-member assembly.
Singh, who is trying for a hattrick against the Congress, is contesting from Rajnandgaon where Naxals struck on poll eve. Two ITBP jawans were injured in an IED blast triggered by Naxals when a polling party was heading towards Baldongri booth.
Maoists have put up posters calling for the boycott of elections in the state.
Out of the 18 seats going to polls tomorow, BJP had won 15 while Congress had three in the last election.
Barely six months ago, Naxals had ambushed a convoy of Congress leaders in Bastar, killing 27 people and virtually wiping out the entire party leadership, including state Congress chief Nand Kumar Patel, his son Dinesh, tribal leader Mahendra Karma who had founded the Salwa Judum and former legislator Uday Mudliyar. Senior leader Vidya Charan Shukla, 84, succumbed to his injuries two weeks later.
Police personnel are keeping a hawk eye in the state and along its borders with Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
"A large number of security force personnel have been deployed across the state. I am very confident of peaceful elections in the state," Chhattisgarh`s Director General of Police (DGP) Ram Niwas told PTI.
He said the police have done micro-level planning to ensure violence-free elections.
"We have been getting support from people also who are giving us crucial information related to security arrangements. They have also helped in detection of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) from some of the areas," said the DGP.
The time of polling in 12 constituencies of Bastar and one of Rajnandgaon district is from 7 AM to 3 PM.
At least 85,000 personnel of central paramilitary forces have been deployed on poll duty in the state.
The Chief Minister`s main rival is Congress` Alka Mudliyar, wife of slain Congress leader Uday Mudliyar.
Raman Singh had defeated Uday Mudliyar with the margin of 32,389 votes.
Devati Karma, wife of Mahendra Karma, has been fielded from Dantewada-ST seat.
The May 25 incident has been raked up during campaigning in the southern part of the state, which saw high-profile visits by Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi.
Tribal welfare Minister Kedar Kashyap had won the Narayanpur segment in 2008 poll against Congress candidate Rajnuram Netam by a huge margin of 21,635 votes and this time the main opposition has fielded a low profile party worker Chandan Kashyap from this seat against him.
Sports minister Lata Usendi had previously defeated Congressman Mohan Markam from Kondagon seat in a close contest by 2771 votes. Markam has been provided a second chance from this seat.
Forest Minister Vikram Usendi has been fielded from Antagarh seat which he had won against former Congress MLA Manturam Pawar in last elections with the margin of mere 109 votes.
The sole sitting MLA of Congress in Bastar, Kawasi Lakhma has been renominated from Konta seat.
The constituencies going to polls tomorrow are Khairagarh, Dongargarh, Rajnandgaon, Dongargaon, Khujji, Mohla-Manpur, Antagarh, Bhanupratappur, Kanker, Keshkal, Kondagaon, Narayanpur, Bastar, Jagdalpur, Chitrakot, Dantewada, Bijapur and Konta.
Women voters outnumber men for first phase of polling, as 14,78,659 female voters are there against 14,53,730 men.
A total of 4,142 polling booths have been set up for this phase of which 1,517 are sensitive booths while 1,311 are hyper-sensitive stations.
Security forces have been directed to sanitise school buildings and other premises to be used for polling in hyper-sensitive areas.
The other precautionary orders given to security forces, particularly to those who have arrived from other states for conducting polls, are not to venture in the forest areas in search of mobile phone signals and to go to washrooms with security cover, a senior police official said on condition of anonymity.
Maoists can take advantage of such a situation to launch an attack on police personnel, as they have did in the past, he said.
Security forces have been strictly instructed to conduct de-mining exercise inside school premises being used for polling before entering there, the official said.
"Not only the ground but walls and blackboards in schools are also to be checked as Intelligence Bureau has tipped off that IEDs could be planted anywhere," he said.
The rest 72 constituencies, including Bilaspur and state-capital Raipur, are scheduled for polls on November 19.
Senior police officials said while the focus is on the security of areas which go to polls tomorrow, extra vigil was being maintained in almost other parts of the state as well.
A total of 462 companies (46,200 personnel) have been recently sent by the Centre for security related duty in addition to existing 40 battalions (40,000 men and women) of paramilitary forces who are engaged in anti-naxal operations and other security related duty in the state, official sources said.
With PTI inputs